News & Insights

Discrimination on air?

We discuss whether homophobic comments made on a radio show amount to a breach of unlawful discrimination.

Advocate General Sharpston (AG) has given her opinion on recent controversial remarks made by a senior solicitor on an Italian radio talk show.

The controversy was sparked when the solicitor stated he would never employ a homosexual person to work at his law firm. The AG gave her opinion on whether these comments could fall with the scope of unlawful discrimination under the Equal Treatment Framework Directive.

An Italian court upheld a discrimination claim and ordered the solicitor to action a plan to eliminate discrimination. The case was referred to the ECJ by the Italian Supreme Court.

The law firm were not actively recruiting at the time of the radio show – however this was of little consequence and the AG stated that the comments could be capable of hindering access to employment. She stated it was for the national court to determine if there was a link between such comments and entering employment that had to be more than “purely hypothetical”. The AG also stated that the nature of the comments, who they were made by (in this case somebody in a senior position), their context and the extent they might discourage a homosexual trying to enter employment, should all be considered.

If the opinion of the AG is followed by the ECJ, this may have an impact in the UK with regards to enforcement powers of the Equality and Humans Rights Commission. Currently there is no need for the EHRC to have identified an actual individual who has been discriminated against and if this opinion is followed the powers may further widen.

Discrimination on air?