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Example: Restaurant puts phone down

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Last updated 4th May 2012.


This is a made-up example, to illustrate how the law might apply to a particular situation:

A person who stammers phones a restaurant to book a table. They are struggling to speak, and the restaurant puts the phone down. It is assumed the stammer is a disability.

(Note: To a large extent case law on disability under Equality Act 2010 has yet to develop, so it remains to be seen what approach the courts will take.)

Coming within the scope of Equality Act 2010

This situation will fall within Part 3 of the Equality Act on provision of services to the public. It will be within s.29(1) as a refusal to provide service, and/or providing a worse standard or manner of service to a person who stammers.

Type of discrimination

Direct discrimination

It could be ‘direct discrimination’ for which there is no justification defence.

‘Disability arising from discrimination’ and objective justification

The restaurant might seek to argue it is ‘discrimination arising from disability’, perhaps on the basis that it would put the phone down on anyone taking that length of time.

The question would arise whether the service provider can show objective justification, namely that putting the phone down on the person stammering was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. It will normally be very difficult to show this!

The lack of knowledge defence may apply in some cases, such as where the service provider picks up the phone and hears only silence, but often not.

Other claims

Other types of Equality Act claim could apply too. For example, it might be argued to be harassment.


Compensation for injury to feelings would probably be available if one wanted to seek it.

Even if the person who stammers does not wish to claim compensation, s/he may well want to complain and ask the restaurant what measures they propose to take to comply with the Equality Act in future (eg staff training, including on communication disabilities).

Further comments

See further Services: Right to be heard.

My Telephone page brings together Equality Act issues to do with the phone.

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