Is wheelchair dancefloor ban breach of equality act?
As ‘wheelchair dancer sues company over dance floor ban’ hits the BBC headlines this morning, Employment law solicitor, Angharad, has the legal view with the equality act.
‘This story demonstrates how innocuous practices and policies can still prove problematic. Jive Addiction, a business that specialises in running dance events, refused to allow Mr Walden – who is a wheelchair user – to dance along with his able-bodied friends on one of their portable dance floors. They are now facing prosecution for a breach of the Equality Act.
The Equality Act states that if a policy, criteria, or practice (a PCP) puts someone with a protected characteristic, like disability, at a disadvantage then, unless it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, it will be classed as discriminatory.
Jive Addiction have a policy aimed at preventing any dancer damaging their portable dance floors with any object – including wheelchairs and stiletto heels. Mr Walden claims that he was prohibited from using his wheelchair on Jive Addiction’s dance floor because it was allegedly causing damage to it.
A policy that effectively denies users of mobility aids the opportunity to use a dance floor is likely to put users – like Mr Walden – at a disadvantage. They won’t be able to participate in dance activities with able bodied partners.
Jive Addiction must now persuade the tribunal that their policy was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. They are likely to argue that the legitimate aim was to avoid damage to the dance floor, and consequent any loss of business or repair costs. Jive Addiction will need to show that there was no other means by which such damage could be avoided – and that they gave some thought to the effect of their policy on users with disabilities. This may prove problematic. Mr Walden argues that his wheelchair is specifically designed for using on dance floors without causing any damage.
Businesses should take note. It’s not just policies and practices for employees that need to be carefully analysed to determine whether they are discriminatory – but any services or products provided to the public, too. They should consider whether policies put individuals with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage. If they do, businesses will need to show that alternatives were considered – and that the policy is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.’
Angharad Aspinall, Solicitor