Blackwood v Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (Court of Appeal)

This case confirms that where discrimination is suffered during work placements, university students may bring employment tribunal claims directly against the placement provider.

The Claimant, a university student, brought a claim of indirect sex discrimination directly against the provider of her vocational placement when it withdrew her place due to an inability to work night shifts (for childcare reasons). The EAT upheld the Employment Tribunal's original decision that it had no jurisdiction, in accordance with the strict wording of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA), to hear the direct claim against this training provider.

However, the CA decided it was necessary to effectively "re-word" the EqA to give effect to the presumed intentions of parliament and ensure such a direct claim against the placement provider was possible. This would remove a glaring "[gap] in protection", to operate in parallel with a student's existing ability to pursue their university (in the county court) in the event that it fails to provide access to a placement or does so in a manner that is discriminatory.

This decision should serve as a wake-up call for organisations offering vocational placements. Those training for careers in professions where external/practical placements are common, such as medicine or education, now have clear guidance on who they should pursue if they suffer discrimination during a placement. Placement providers should be aware that they may be primarily liable as principal for employment tribunal claims relating to discrimination suffered "during the course of the work placement".