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Document 62006CJ0303

Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 17 July 2008.
S. Coleman v Attridge Law and Steve Law.
Reference for a preliminary ruling: Employment Tribunal, London South - United Kingdom.
Social policy - Directive 2000/78/EC - Equal treatment in employment and occupation - Articles 1, 2(1), (2)(a) and (3) and 3(1)(c) - Direct discrimination on grounds of disability - Harassment related to disability - Dismissal of an employee who is not himself disabled but whose child is disabled - Included - Burden of proof.
Case C-303/06.

European Court Reports 2008 I-05603

ECLI identifier: ECLI:EU:C:2008:415

Case C-303/06

S. Coleman

v

Attridge Law and Steve Law

(Reference for a preliminary ruling from the

Employment Tribunal, London South)

(Social policy − Directive 2000/78/EC − Equal treatment in employment and occupation − Articles 1, 2(1), (2)(a) and (3) and 3(1)(c) − Direct discrimination on grounds of disability − Harassment related to disability − Dismissal of an employee who is not himself disabled but whose child is disabled − Included − Burden of proof)

Summary of the Judgment

1.        Social policy – Equal treatment in employment and occupation – Directive 2000/78 – Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of disability – Scope

(Council Directive 2000/78, Arts 1 and 2(1) and (2)(a))

2.        Social policy – Equal treatment in employment and occupation – Directive 2000/78 – Prohibition of harassment – Scope

(Council Directive 2000/78, Arts 1 and 2(1) and (3))

1.        Directive 2000/78 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, and, in particular, Articles 1 and 2(1) and (2)(a) thereof, must be interpreted as meaning that the prohibition of direct discrimination laid down by those provisions is not limited only to people who are themselves disabled. The principle of equal treatment enshrined in that directive in the area of employment and occupation applies not to a particular category of person but by reference to the grounds mentioned in Article 1.

Where an employer treats an employee who is not himself disabled less favourably than another employee is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation, and it is established that the less favourable treatment of that employee is based on the disability of his child, whose care is provided primarily by that employee, such treatment is contrary to the prohibition of direct discrimination laid down by Article 2(2)(a) of Directive 2000/78.

(see paras 38, 50, 56, operative part 1)

2.        Directive 2000/78 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, and, in particular, Articles 1 and 2(1) and (3) thereof, must be interpreted as meaning that the prohibition of harassment laid down by those provisions is not limited only to people who are themselves disabled. Under Article 2(3), harassment is deemed to be a form of discrimination within the meaning of Article 2(1) and the principle of equal treatment enshrined in that directive in the area of employment and occupation applies not to a particular category of person but by reference to the grounds mentioned in Article 1.

Where it is established that the unwanted conduct amounting to harassment which is suffered by an employee who is not himself disabled is related to the disability of his child, whose care is provided primarily by that employee, such conduct is contrary to the prohibition of harassment laid down by Article 2(3) of Directive 2000/78.

(see paras 38, 58, 63, operative part 2)







JUDGMENT OF THE COURT (Grand Chamber)

17 July 2008 (*)

(Social policy − Directive 2000/78/EC − Equal treatment in employment and occupation − Articles 1, 2(1), (2)(a) and (3) and 3(1)(c) − Direct discrimination on grounds of disability − Harassment related to disability − Dismissal of an employee who is not himself disabled but whose child is disabled − Included − Burden of proof)

In Case C‑303/06,

REFERENCE for a preliminary ruling under Article 234 EC from the Employment Tribunal, London South (United Kingdom), made by decision of 6 July 2006, received at the Court on 10 July 2006, in the proceedings

S. Coleman

v

Attridge Law

and

Steve Law,

THE COURT (Grand Chamber),

composed of V. Skouris, President, P. Jann, C.W.A. Timmermans, A. Rosas, K. Lenaerts and A. Tizzano, Presidents of Chambers, M. Ilešič, J. Klučka, A. Ó Caoimh (Rapporteur), T. von Danwitz and A. Arabadjiev, Judges,

Advocate General: M. Poiares Maduro,

Registrar: L. Hewlett, Principal Administrator,

having regard to the written procedure and further to the hearing on 9 October 2007,

after considering the observations submitted on behalf of:

–        Ms Coleman, by R. Allen QC and P. Michell, Barrister,

–        the United Kingdom Government, by V. Jackson, acting as Agent, and N. Paines QC,

–        the Greek Government, by K. Georgiadis and Z. Chatzipavlou, acting as Agents,

–        Ireland, by N. Travers, BL,

–        the Italian Government, by I.M. Braguglia, acting as Agent, and W. Ferrante, avvocato dello Stato,

–        the Lithuanian Government, by D. Kriaučiūnas, acting as Agent,

–        the Netherlands Government, by H.G. Sevenster and C. ten Dam, acting as Agents,

–        the Swedish Government, by A. Falk, acting as Agent,

–        the Commission of the European Communities, by J. Enegren and N. Yerrell, acting as Agents,

after hearing the Opinion of the Advocate General at the sitting on 31 January 2008,

gives the following

Judgment

1        This reference for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation (OJ 2000 L 303, p. 16).

2        The reference was made in the course of proceedings between Ms Coleman, the claimant in the main proceedings, and Attridge Law, a firm of solicitors, and Mr Law, a partner in that firm (together, the ‘former employer’), concerning Ms Coleman’s claim of constructive dismissal.

 Legal context

 Community legislation

3        Directive 2000/78 was adopted on the basis of Article 13 EC. Recitals 6, 11, 16, 17, 20, 27, 31 and 37 in the preamble to the directive are worded as follows:

‘(6)      The Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers recognises the importance of combating every form of discrimination, including the need to take appropriate action for the social and economic integration of elderly and disabled people.

(11)      Discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation may undermine the achievement of the objectives of the EC Treaty, in particular the attainment of a high level of employment and social protection, raising the standard of living and the quality of life, economic and social cohesion and solidarity, and the free movement of persons.

(16)      The provision of measures to accommodate the needs of disabled people at the workplace plays an important role in combating discrimination on grounds of disability.

(17)      This Directive does not require the recruitment, promotion, maintenance in employment or training of an individual who is not competent, capable and available to perform the essential functions of the post concerned or to undergo the relevant training, without prejudice to the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities.

(20)      Appropriate measures should be provided, i.e. effective and practical measures to adapt the workplace to the disability, for example adapting premises and equipment, patterns of working time, the distribution of tasks or the provision of training or integration resources.

(27)      In its Recommendation 86/379/EEC of 24 July 1986 on the employment of disabled people in the Community [OJ 1986 L 225, p. 43], the Council established a guideline framework setting out examples of positive action to promote the employment and training of disabled people, and in its Resolution of 17 June 1999 on equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities [OJ 1999 C 186, p. 3], affirmed the importance of giving specific attention inter alia to recruitment, retention, training and lifelong learning with regard to disabled persons.

(31)      The rules on the burden of proof must be adapted when there is a prima facie case of discrimination and, for the principle of equal treatment to be applied effectively, the burden of proof must shift back to the respondent when evidence of such discrimination is brought. However, it is not for the respondent to prove that the plaintiff adheres to a particular religion or belief, has a particular disability, is of a particular age or has a particular sexual orientation.

(37)      In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity set out in Article 5 of the EC Treaty, the objective of this Directive, namely the creation within the Community of a level playing field as regards equality in employment and occupation, cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale and impact of the action, be better achieved at Community level. In accordance with the principle of proportionality, as set out in that Article, this Directive does not go beyond what is necessary in order to achieve that objective.’

4        Article 1 of Directive 2000/78 states that ‘[t]he purpose of this Directive is to lay down a general framework for combating discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation as regards employment and occupation, with a view to putting into effect in the Member States the principle of equal treatment’.

5        Article 2(1) to (3) of the directive, headed ‘Concept of discrimination’, states:

‘1.      For the purposes of this Directive, the “principle of equal treatment” shall mean that there shall be no direct or indirect discrimination whatsoever on any of the grounds referred to in Article 1.

2.      For the purposes of paragraph 1:

(a)      direct discrimination shall be taken to occur where one person is treated less favourably than another is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation, on any of the grounds referred to in Article 1;

(b)      indirect discrimination shall be taken to occur where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons having a particular religion or belief, a particular disability, a particular age, or a particular sexual orientation at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons unless:

(i)      that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary, or

(ii)      as regards persons with a particular disability, the employer or any person or organisation to whom this Directive applies is obliged, under national legislation, to take appropriate measures in line with the principles contained in Article 5 in order to eliminate disadvantages entailed by such provision, criterion or practice.

3.      Harassment shall be deemed to be a form of discrimination within the meaning of paragraph 1, when unwanted conduct related to any of the grounds referred to in Article 1 takes place with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. In this context, the concept of harassment may be defined in accordance with the national laws and practice of the Member States.

…’

6        Article 3(1) of Directive 2000/78 provides:

‘Within the limits of the areas of competence conferred on the Community, this Directive shall apply to all persons, as regards both the public and private sectors, including public bodies, in relation to:

(c)      employment and working conditions, including dismissals and pay;

…’

7        Article 5 of Directive 2000/78, headed ‘Reasonable accommodation for disabled persons’, provides:

‘In order to guarantee compliance with the principle of equal treatment in relation to persons with disabilities, reasonable accommodation shall be provided. This means that employers shall take appropriate measures, where needed in a particular case, to enable a person with a disability to have access to, participate in, or advance in employment, or to undergo training, unless such measures would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer. …’

8        Article 7 of Directive 2000/78, headed ‘Positive action’, is worded as follows:

‘1.      With a view to ensuring full equality in practice, the principle of equal treatment shall not prevent any Member State from maintaining or adopting specific measures to prevent or compensate for disadvantages linked to any of the grounds referred to in Article 1.

2.      With regard to disabled persons, the principle of equal treatment shall be without prejudice to the right of Member States to maintain or adopt provisions on the protection of health and safety at work or to measures aimed at creating or maintaining provisions or facilities for safeguarding or promoting their integration into the working environment.’

9        Article 10 of Directive 2000/78, headed ‘Burden of proof’, provides:

‘1.      Member States shall take such measures as are necessary, in accordance with their national judicial systems, to ensure that, when persons who consider themselves wronged because the principle of equal treatment has not been applied to them establish, before a court or other competent authority, facts from which it may be presumed that there has been direct or indirect discrimination, it shall be for the respondent to prove that there has been no breach of the principle of equal treatment.

2.      Paragraph 1 shall not prevent Member States from introducing rules of evidence which are more favourable to plaintiffs.’

10      In accordance with the first paragraph of Article 18 of Directive 2000/78, Member States were required to adopt the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with that directive by 2 December 2003 at the latest. Nevertheless, the second paragraph of Article 18 states:

‘In order to take account of particular conditions, Member States may, if necessary, have an additional period of three years from 2 December 2003, that is to say a total of six years, to implement the provisions of this Directive on age and disability discrimination. In that event they shall inform the Commission forthwith. Any Member State which chooses to use this additional period shall report annually to the Commission on the steps it is taking to tackle age and disability discrimination and on the progress it is making towards implementation. The Commission shall report annually to the Council.’

11      As the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland requested such an additional period for the implementation of the directive, that period did not expire until 2 December 2006 as regards that Member State.

 National legislation

12      The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (‘the DDA’) essentially aims to make it unlawful to discriminate against disabled persons in connection, inter alia, with employment.

13      Part 2 of the DDA, which regulates the employment field, was amended, on the transposition of Directive 2000/78 into United Kingdom law, by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) Regulations 2003, which came into force on 1 October 2004.

14      According to section 3A(1) of the DDA, as amended by those 2003 Regulations (‘the DDA as amended in 2003’):

‘… a person discriminates against a disabled person if –

(a)      for a reason which relates to the disabled person’s disability, he treats him less favourably than he treats or would treat others to whom that reason does not or would not apply, and

(b)      he cannot show that the treatment in question is justified.’

15      Section 3A(4) of the DDA as amended in 2003 none the less specifies that the treatment of a disabled person cannot be justified if it amounts to direct discrimination falling within section 3A(5), according to which:

‘A person directly discriminates against a disabled person if, on the ground of the disabled person’s disability, he treats the disabled person less favourably than he treats or would treat a person not having that particular disability whose relevant circumstances, including his abilities, are the same as, or not materially different from, those of the disabled person.’

16      Harassment is defined in section 3B of the DDA as amended in 2003 as follows:

‘(1)      ... a person subjects a disabled person to harassment where, for a reason which relates to the disabled person’s disability, he engages in unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of –

(a)      violating the disabled person’s dignity, or

(b)      creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him.

(2)      Conduct shall be regarded as having the effect referred to in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) only if, having regard to all the circumstances, including in particular the perception of the disabled person, it should reasonably be considered as having that effect.’

17      Under section 4(2)(d) of the DDA as amended in 2003, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a disabled person whom he employs by dismissing him or by subjecting him to any other detriment.

18      Section 4(3)(a) and (b) of the DDA as amended in 2003 provides that it is also unlawful for an employer, in relation to employment by him, to subject to harassment a disabled person whom he employs or a disabled person who has applied to him for employment.

 The dispute in the main proceedings and the questions referred for a preliminary ruling

19      Ms Coleman worked for her former employer as a legal secretary from January 2001.

20      In 2002, she gave birth to a son who suffers from apnoeic attacks and congenital laryngomalacia and bronchomalacia. Her son’s condition requires specialised and particular care. The claimant in the main proceedings is his primary carer.

21      On 4 March 2005, Ms Coleman accepted voluntary redundancy, which brought her contract of employment with her former employer to an end.

22      On 30 August 2005, she lodged a claim with the Employment Tribunal, London South, alleging that she had been subject to unfair constructive dismissal and had been treated less favourably than other employees because she was the primary carer of a disabled child. She claims that that treatment caused her to stop working for her former employer.

23      The order for reference states that the material facts of the case in the main proceedings have not yet been fully established, since the questions referred for a preliminary ruling arose only as a preliminary issue. The referring tribunal stayed that part of the action concerning Ms Coleman’s dismissal, but held a preliminary hearing on 17 February 2006 to consider the discrimination plea.

24      The preliminary issue raised before that tribunal is whether the claimant in the main proceedings can base her application on national law, in particular those provisions designed to transpose Directive 2000/78, in order to plead discrimination against her former employer on the ground that she was subjected to less favourable treatment connected with her son’s disability.

25      It is apparent from the order for reference that, should the Court’s interpretation of Directive 2000/78 contradict that put forward by Ms Coleman, her application to the referring tribunal could not succeed under national law.

26      It is also apparent from the order for reference that, under United Kingdom law, where there is a preliminary hearing on a point of law, the court or tribunal hearing the case assumes that the facts are as related by the claimant. In the main proceedings, the facts of the dispute are assumed to be as follows:

–        On Ms Coleman’s return from maternity leave, her former employer refused to allow her to return to her existing job, in circumstances where the parents of non-disabled children would have been allowed to take up their former posts;

–        her former employer also refused to allow her the same flexibility as regards her working hours and the same working conditions as those of her colleagues who are parents of non-disabled children;

–        Ms Coleman was described as ‘lazy’ when she requested time off to care for her child, whereas parents of non-disabled children were allowed time off;

–        the formal grievance which she lodged against her ill treatment was not dealt with properly and she felt constrained to withdraw it;

–        abusive and insulting comments were made about both her and her child. No such comments were made when other employees had to ask for time off or a degree of flexibility in order to look after non-disabled children; and

–        having occasionally arrived late at the office because of problems related to her son’s condition, she was told that she would be dismissed if she came to work late again. No such threat was made in the case of other employees with non-disabled children who were late for similar reasons.

27      Since the Employment Tribunal, London South, considered that the case before it raised questions of interpretation of Community law, it decided to stay the proceedings and refer the following questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘(1)      In the context of the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of disability, does [Directive 2000/78] only protect from direct discrimination and harassment persons who are themselves disabled?

(2)      If the answer to Question (1) above is in the negative, does [Directive 2000/78] protect employees who, though they are not themselves disabled, are treated less favourably or harassed on the ground of their association with a person who is disabled?

(3)      Where an employer treats an employee less favourably than he treats or would treat other employees, and it is established that the ground for the treatment of the employee is that the employee has a disabled son for whom the employee cares, is that treatment direct discrimination in breach of the principle of equal treatment established by [Directive 2000/78]?

(4)      Where an employer harasses an employee, and it is established that the ground for the treatment of the employee is that the employee has a disabled son for whom the employee cares, is that harassment a breach of the principle of equal treatment established by [Directive 2000/78]?’

 Admissibility

28      While accepting that the questions put by the referring tribunal are based on an actual dispute, the Netherlands Government called into question the admissibility of the reference for a preliminary ruling on the basis that, given that these are preliminary questions raised at a preliminary hearing, all the facts at issue have not yet been established. It points out that, for the purposes of such a preliminary hearing, the national court or tribunal presumes that the facts are as related by the claimant.

29      It must be borne in mind that Article 234 EC establishes the framework for a relationship of close cooperation between the national courts or tribunals and the Court of Justice based on the assignment to each of different functions. It is clear from the second paragraph of that article that it is for the national court or tribunal to decide at what stage in the proceedings it is appropriate for that court or tribunal to refer a question to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling (see Joined Cases 36/80 and 71/80 Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and Others [1981] ECR 735, paragraph 5, and Case C‑236/98 JämO [2000] ECR I‑2189, paragraph 30).

30      In the case in the main proceedings, the referring tribunal found that, if the Court of Justice should decide not to interpret Directive 2000/78 in accordance with Ms Coleman’s submissions, her case would fail in the material respects. The referring tribunal therefore decided, as permitted under United Kingdom legislation, to consider whether that directive must be interpreted as being applicable to the dismissal of an employee in Ms Coleman’s situation, before establishing whether, in fact, Ms Coleman did suffer less favourable treatment or harassment. It is for that reason that the questions referred for a preliminary ruling were based on the presumption that the facts of the dispute in the main proceedings are as summarised in paragraph 26 of this judgment.

31      Where, as here, the Court receives a request for interpretation of Community law which is not manifestly unrelated to the reality or the subject-matter of the main proceedings and it has the necessary information in order to give appropriate answers to the questions put to it in relation to the applicability of Directive 2000/78 to those proceedings, it must reply to that request and is not required to consider the facts as presumed by the referring court or tribunal, a presumption which it is for the referring court or tribunal to verify subsequently if that should prove to be necessary (see, to that effect, Case C‑127/92 Enderby [1993] ECR I‑5535, paragraph 12).

32      In those circumstances, the request for a preliminary ruling must be held to be admissible.

 The questions referred for a preliminary ruling

 The first part of Question 1, and Questions 2 and 3

33      By these questions, which should be examined together, the referring tribunal asks, in essence, whether Directive 2000/78, and, in particular, Articles 1 and 2(1) and (2)(a), must be interpreted as prohibiting direct discrimination on grounds of disability only in respect of an employee who is himself disabled, or whether the principle of equal treatment and the prohibition of direct discrimination apply equally to an employee who is not himself disabled but who, as in the present case, is treated less favourably by reason of the disability of his child, for whom he is the primary provider of the care required by virtue of the child’s condition.

34      Article 1 of Directive 2000/78 identifies its purpose as being to lay down, as regards employment and occupation, a general framework for combating discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

35      Article 2(1) of Directive 2000/78 defines the principle of equal treatment as meaning that there is to be no direct or indirect discrimination whatsoever on any of the grounds referred to in Article 1, including, therefore, disability.

36      According to Article 2(2)(a), direct discrimination is to be taken to occur where one person is treated less favourably than another is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation, on the grounds, inter alia, of disability.

37      Article 3(1)(c) of Directive 2000/78 provides that the directive is to apply, within the limits of the areas of competence conferred on the Community, to all persons, as regards both the public and private sectors, including public bodies, in relation to employment and working conditions, including dismissals and pay.

38      Consequently, it does not follow from those provisions of Directive 2000/78 that the principle of equal treatment which it is designed to safeguard is limited to people who themselves have a disability within the meaning of the directive. On the contrary, the purpose of the directive, as regards employment and occupation, is to combat all forms of discrimination on grounds of disability. The principle of equal treatment enshrined in the directive in that area applies not to a particular category of person but by reference to the grounds mentioned in Article 1. That interpretation is supported by the wording of Article 13 EC, which constitutes the legal basis of Directive 2000/78, and which confers on the Community the competence to take appropriate action to combat discrimination based, inter alia, on disability.

39      It is true that Directive 2000/78 includes a number of provisions which, as is apparent from their very wording, apply only to disabled people. Thus, Article 5 provides that, in order to guarantee compliance with the principle of equal treatment in relation to persons with disabilities, reasonable accommodation is to be provided. This means that employers must take appropriate measures, where needed in a particular case, to enable a person with a disability to have access to, participate in, or advance in employment, or to undergo training, unless such measures would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer.

40      Article 7(2) of Directive 2000/78 also provides that, with regard to disabled persons, the principle of equal treatment is to be without prejudice either to the right of Member States to maintain or adopt provisions on the protection of health and safety at work or to measures aimed at creating or maintaining provisions or facilities for safeguarding or promoting the integration of such persons into the working environment.

41      The United Kingdom, Greek, Italian and Netherlands Governments contend, in the light of the provisions referred to in the two preceding paragraphs and also of recitals 16, 17 and 27 in the preamble to Directive 2000/78, that the prohibition of direct discrimination laid down by the directive cannot be interpreted as covering a situation such as that of the claimant in the main proceedings, since the claimant herself is not disabled. Only persons who, in a comparable situation to that of others, are treated less favourably or are placed in a disadvantageous situation because of characteristics which are particular to them can rely on that directive.

42      Nevertheless, it must be noted in that regard that the provisions referred to in paragraphs 39 and 40 of this judgment relate specifically to disabled persons either because they are provisions concerning positive discrimination measures in favour of disabled persons themselves or because they are specific measures which would be rendered meaningless or could prove to be disproportionate if they were not limited to disabled persons only. Thus, as recitals 16 and 20 in the preamble to Directive 2000/78 indicate, the measures in question are intended to accommodate the needs of disabled people at the workplace and to adapt the workplace to their disability. Such measures are therefore designed specifically to facilitate and promote the integration of disabled people into the working environment and, for that reason, can only relate to disabled people and to the obligations incumbent on their employers and, where appropriate, on the Member States with regard to disabled people.

43      Therefore, the fact that Directive 2000/78 includes provisions designed to accommodate specifically the needs of disabled people does not lead to the conclusion that the principle of equal treatment enshrined in that directive must be interpreted strictly, that is, as prohibiting only direct discrimination on grounds of disability and relating exclusively to disabled people. Furthermore, recital 6 in the preamble to the directive, concerning the Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, refers both to the general combating of every form of discrimination and to the need to take appropriate action for the social and economic integration of disabled people.

44      The United Kingdom, Italian and Netherlands Governments also contend that it follows from the judgment in Case C‑13/05 Chacón Navas [2006] ECR I‑6467 that the scope ratione personae of Directive 2000/78 must be interpreted strictly. According to the Italian Government, in Chacón Navas, the Court opted for a strict interpretation of the concept of disability and its implications in an employment relationship.

45      The Court defined the concept of ‘disability’ in its judgment in Chacón Navas and, in paragraphs 51 and 52 of that judgment, it found that the prohibition, as regards dismissal, of discrimination on grounds of disability contained in Articles 2(1) and 3(1)(c) of Directive 2000/78 precludes dismissal on grounds of disability which, in the light of the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities, is not justified by the fact that the person concerned is not competent, capable and available to perform the essential functions of his post. However, it does not follow from this interpretation that the principle of equal treatment defined in Article 2(1) of that directive and the prohibition of direct discrimination laid down by Article 2(2)(a) cannot apply to a situation such as that in the present case, where the less favourable treatment which an employee claims to have suffered is on grounds of the disability of his child, for whom he is the primary provider of the care required by virtue of the child’s condition.

46      Although the Court explained in paragraph 56 of the judgment in Chacón Navas that, in view of the wording of Article 13 EC, the scope of Directive 2000/78 cannot be extended beyond the discrimination based on the grounds listed exhaustively in Article 1 of the directive, with the result that a person who has been dismissed by his employer solely on account of sickness cannot fall within the scope of the general framework established by Directive 2000/78, it nevertheless did not hold that the principle of equal treatment and the scope ratione personae of that directive must be interpreted strictly with regard to those grounds.

47      So far as the objectives of Directive 2000/78 are concerned, as is apparent from paragraphs 34 and 38 of the present judgment, the directive seeks to lay down, as regards employment and occupation, a general framework for combating discrimination on one of the grounds referred to in Article 1 – including, in particular, disability – with a view to putting into effect in the Member States the principle of equal treatment. It follows from recital 37 in the preamble to the directive that it also has the objective of creating within the Community a level playing field as regards equality in employment and occupation.

48      As Ms Coleman, the Lithuanian and Swedish Governments and the Commission maintain, those objectives, and the effectiveness of Directive 2000/78, would be undermined if an employee in the claimant’s situation cannot rely on the prohibition of direct discrimination laid down by Article 2(2)(a) of that directive where it has been established that he has been treated less favourably than another employee is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation, on the grounds of his child’s disability, and this is the case even though that employee is not himself disabled.

49      In that regard, it follows from recital 11 in the preamble to the directive that the Community legislature also took the view that discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation may undermine the achievement of the objectives of the Treaty, in particular, as regards employment.

50      Although, in a situation such as that in the present case, the person who is subject to direct discrimination on grounds of disability is not herself disabled, the fact remains that it is the disability which, according to Ms Coleman, is the ground for the less favourable treatment which she claims to have suffered. As is apparent from paragraph 38 of this judgment, Directive 2000/78, which seeks to combat all forms of discrimination on grounds of disability in the field of employment and occupation, applies not to a particular category of person but by reference to the grounds mentioned in Article 1.

51      Where it is established that an employee in a situation such as that in the present case suffers direct discrimination on grounds of disability, an interpretation of Directive 2000/78 limiting its application only to people who are themselves disabled is liable to deprive that directive of an important element of its effectiveness and to reduce the protection which it is intended to guarantee.

52      As to the burden of proof which applies in a situation such as that in the present case, it should be observed that, under Article 10(1) of Directive 2000/78, Member States are required to take such measures as are necessary, in accordance with their national judicial systems, to ensure that, when persons who consider themselves wronged because the principle of equal treatment has not been applied to them establish, before a court or other competent authority, facts from which it may be presumed that there has been direct or indirect discrimination, it is for the respondent to prove that there has been no breach of that principle. According to Article 10(2), Article 10(1) does not prevent Member States from introducing rules on the burden of proof which are more favourable to plaintiffs.

53      In the case before the referring tribunal, it is therefore for Ms Coleman, in accordance with Article 10(1) of Directive 2000/78, to establish, before that tribunal, facts from which it may be presumed that there has been direct discrimination on grounds of disability contrary to the directive.

54      In accordance with Article 10(1) of Directive 2000/78 and recital 31 in the preamble thereto, the rules on the burden of proof must be adapted when there is a prima facie case of discrimination. In the event that Ms Coleman establishes facts from which it may be presumed that there has been direct discrimination, the effective application of the principle of equal treatment then requires that the burden of proof should fall on the respondents, who must prove that there has been no breach of that principle.

55      In that context, the respondents could contest the existence of such a breach by establishing by any legally permissible means, in particular, that the employee’s treatment was justified by objective factors unrelated to any discrimination on grounds of disability and to any association which that employee has with a disabled person.

56      In the light of the foregoing considerations, the answer to the first part of Question 1 and to Questions 2 and 3 must be that Directive 2000/78, and, in particular, Articles 1 and 2(1) and (2)(a) thereof, must be interpreted as meaning that the prohibition of direct discrimination laid down by those provisions is not limited only to people who are themselves disabled. Where an employer treats an employee who is not himself disabled less favourably than another employee is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation, and it is established that the less favourable treatment of that employee is based on the disability of his child, whose care is provided primarily by that employee, such treatment is contrary to the prohibition of direct discrimination laid down by Article 2(2)(a).

 The second part of Question 1, and Question 4

57      By these questions, which should be examined together, the referring tribunal asks, in essence, whether Directive 2000/78, and, in particular, Articles 1 and 2(1) and (3) thereof, must be interpreted as prohibiting harassment related to disability only in respect of an employee who is himself disabled, or whether the prohibition of harassment applies equally to an employee who is not himself disabled but who, as in the present case, is the victim of unwanted conduct amounting to harassment related to the disability of his child, for whom he is the primary provider of the care required by virtue of the child’s condition.

58      Since, under Article 2(3) of Directive 2000/78, harassment is deemed to be a form of discrimination within the meaning of Article 2(1), it must be held that, for the same reasons as those set out in paragraphs 34 to 51 of this judgment, that directive, and, in particular, Articles 1 and 2(1) and (3) thereof, must be interpreted as not being limited to the prohibition of harassment of people who are themselves disabled.

59      Where it is established that the unwanted conduct amounting to harassment which is suffered by an employee who is not himself disabled is related to the disability of his child, whose care is provided primarily by that employee, such conduct is contrary to the principle of equal treatment enshrined in Directive 2000/78 and, in particular, to the prohibition of harassment laid down by Article 2(3) thereof.

60      In that regard, it must nevertheless be borne in mind that, according to the actual wording of Article 2(3) of the directive, the concept of harassment may be defined in accordance with the national laws and practice of the Member States.

61      With regard to the burden of proof which applies in situations such as that in the main proceedings, it must be observed that, since harassment is deemed to be a form of discrimination within the meaning of Article 2(1) of Directive 2000/78, the same rules apply to harassment as those set out in paragraphs 52 to 55 of this judgment.

62      Consequently, as is apparent from paragraph 54 of this judgment, in accordance with Article 10(1) of Directive 2000/78 and recital 31 in the preamble thereto, the rules on the burden of proof must be adapted when there is a prima facie case of discrimination. In the event that Ms Coleman establishes facts from which it may be presumed that there has been harassment, the effective application of the principle of equal treatment then requires that the burden of proof should fall on the respondents, who must prove that there has been no harassment in the circumstances of the present case.

63      In the light of the foregoing considerations, the answer to the second part of Question 1 and to Question 4 must be that Directive 2000/78, and, in particular, Articles 1 and 2(1) and (3) thereof, must be interpreted as meaning that the prohibition of harassment laid down by those provisions is not limited only to people who are themselves disabled. Where it is established that the unwanted conduct amounting to harassment which is suffered by an employee who is not himself disabled is related to the disability of his child, whose care is provided primarily by that employee, such conduct is contrary to the prohibition of harassment laid down by Article 2(3).

 Costs

64      Since these proceedings are, for the parties to the main proceedings, a step in the action pending before the national court, the decision on costs is a matter for that court. Costs incurred in submitting observations to the Court, other than the costs of those parties, are not recoverable.

On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby rules:

1.      Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, and, in particular, Articles 1 and 2(1) and (2)(a) thereof, must be interpreted as meaning that the prohibition of direct discrimination laid down by those provisions is not limited only to people who are themselves disabled. Where an employer treats an employee who is not himself disabled less favourably than another employee is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation, and it is established that the less favourable treatment of that employee is based on the disability of his child, whose care is provided primarily by that employee, such treatment is contrary to the prohibition of direct discrimination laid down by Article 2(2)(a).

2.      Directive 2000/78, and, in particular, Articles 1 and 2(1) and (3) thereof, must be interpreted as meaning that the prohibition of harassment laid down by those provisions is not limited only to people who are themselves disabled. Where it is established that the unwanted conduct amounting to harassment which is suffered by an employee who is not himself disabled is related to the disability of his child, whose care is provided primarily by that employee, such conduct is contrary to the prohibition of harassment laid down by Article 2(3).

[Signatures]


* Language of the case: English.

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