Friday, November 23, 2012


“One way of undermining the dignity and autonomy of people who belong to a certain group is to target not them, but third persons who are closely associated with them and do not themselves belong to the group.”
Advocate General  Miguel Poiares Maduro

Over two years ago, and less than three months after SMA came into our lives, I decided to leave my job.  In the end it was an easy decision.  My colleagues made it easy.  In fact, they pushed me and by jove they pushed me hard.  

They lured me down to a meeting under false pretences.  D came with me for moral support but I felt save enough not to take him into the meeting because, after all this meeting wasn’t about me.

I was ambushed; for 40 minutes I sat in tears: the details of what was said aren’t important now, but their attitude and constant bombardment as they questioned my commitment and loyalty, pushing me for a return to work date (having been signed off with depression and anxiety prior to Eilidh's diagnosis), astounded me.

And then, the clanger, the moment I realised that this wasn’t the job for me, that these people were not who I wanted to work with, let alone be associated with:

“We don’t think that you can commit to this job with a disabled child...”

Oh, my goodness! 
Did I just hear right?  
Did you really just say that?
I don't know what to say;
I really don't know what to say...

I was shocked and stunned; I knew then and there that I couldn't work with such colleagues and so two years ago, more or less to this very day, I handed in my notice.

Although disability discrimination in the work place is often highlighted in the news and is an issue with which many HR managers are familiar, less widely publicised is the issue of discrimination on the basis of a dependent's disability.  Eilidh, because of her disability, is considered to have "protected characteristics" -you can find other such characteristics here - and this protects her from discrimination in a whole number of situations; but what you  might not know is that as a parent (or carer) to a child with "protected characteristics" you are also legally protected  under the Equality Act 2010 - it's called associative discrimination.

In the grand scheme of things, I knew that leaving my job wasn’t important to me, my family was (and are) everything and more, but the discrimination and lack of empathy shown by my colleagues shocked and hurt me.  After talking to friends, an employment lawyer was recommended to me.  I met him and he deemed that I could take my colleagues to tribunal, but  he paused and asked me whether I had the emotional energy and mental strength to take them on?  I knew that I didn’t.  In fact, in all honesty I never wanted to see them again... I felt that they had won and I was broken...

Having been diagnosed with PND after Eilidh and then suffering a huge setback in my mental health with her diagnosis with SMA – and my colleagues were very aware of this (and they probably, on reflection as I write this, used my mental illness as a weapon against me)  – I had very little energy or strength to push and take this further even though I knew I was in the right, that I was being discriminated against because of Eilidh, that I was, in fact being bullied.  My lawyer made me aware of the Equality Act 2010 which was due to come in only two months later, designed to protect those "associated" with someone with a "protected characteristic": the Equality Act, had in been in place when the comment was made, would have strengthened my case. I would have been protected as parent of a child with physical disability who had been discriminated against through association.

Had this Act been in place at the time of the meeting I would perhaps have considered taking them on, trying to prove a point to myself that I was better than them, but Eilidh was my main concern at that time and I had to focus on her and on my family - we didn't need Eilidh's diagnosis rubbed in our faces for it was still an open and raw wound.  And now?  I'm stronger.  I know that I am better than them.  So why am I here writing this post?  Perhaps as catharsis; perhaps I'm writing this to make others aware that associated discrimination does exists; or as a way of telling other parents and carers that they are not alone and that, if they have the strength to tell someone and do something about the discrimination they are experiencing; or maybe, just maybe, it's time to (oh, my goodness, I was about to type forgive - that is the word that popped into my mind... but I'm not sure that I am ready to forgive...) move on... yes, it's time to move on...

If you want to know one story of why - perhaps? - the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was changed and the Equality Act 2010 was brought into force, please read the story of Sharon Coleman and her son (Coleman v Attridge Law).

1 comment:

BavarianSojourn said...

Reading this has made me so cross, and so sad on your behalf. As someone who used to work for a London law firm, half of me is tempted to say "it's not too late, take them to the cleaners", but the other half thinks, "no, good for you, you've moved on, you are the better person, these things take lots of time and energy that could be better spent with your girls, and anyway I hope karma comes to bite them on the bum!!" xx