The Equality Act 2010 provides a legal framework ‘to protect the rights of individuals, and advance equality of opportunity for all’. The act combines and strengthens earlier legislation to provide an anti-discrimination law which protects individuals from unfair treatment and promotes a fair and more equal society. The nine main characteristics protected by this act are as follows:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
Equality in action
It is one thing to have equality for all enshrined within a legal framework, of course, and quite another to have these as functioning social values. Individuals, under any of the above characteristics, can feel that they are discriminated against in their everyday lives, whether this be at work, within the community or in relation to a service provider; they may wish to seek redress for these breaches of the equality act.
Heading to the courts
For many, their first thought in addressing perceived discrimination will be adversarial. This can be problematic. Firstly, a successful case will depend upon a burden of proof which may not be available or may be highly subjective and open to varied interpretation. Secondly, in the case of an employee bringing a discrimination case against an employer for example, whatever the outcome of legal proceedings, the relationship may have been irrevocably damaged.
Equality and diversity mediation
Mediation provides a positive alternative. Through the involvement of an objective, independent mediator, both parties stand to gain a greater understanding of the fundamental issues of discrimination as they relate to their particular case. The opportunity for discussion that the mediation process facilitates also allows each party to understand more cogently the position of the other regarding the alleged discrimination, and to move forward constructively in an improved relationship.
In short, mediation allows the opportunity to resolve discrimination disputes without the need for potentially damaging adversarial proceedings, whilst the option to proceed to law remains open to both parties.