Two get caught in disability law net

September 19, 2003

A college that excluded an adult with learning difficulties and visual impairment from a cookery course and a university that rejected an applicant with Asperger's syndrome from a nursing course are expected to be among the first to fall foul of new disability discrimination rules, an education law expert has warned, writes Olga Wojtas.

Lesley Paterson of Scottish solicitors Thorntons WS said proceedings were expected against the two institutions a year after education was included in disability discrimination legislation.

Actions against educational institutions appeared to have got off to a slow start compared with the 582 cases already brought against employers, Ms Paterson said. But the employment provisions had been in force for almost a decade. "It may therefore be only a matter of time before claims against educational institutions pick up the same momentum as those brought against employers."

Education lawyers will be among the speakers at a further and higher education conference on October 7, organised by Thorntons and co-sponsored by The THES . They will urge institutions to review recruitment, promotion, training and equal opportunities policies if they want to avoid penalties in the wake of new discrimination legislation.

Stewart Brymer, head of Thorntons' education law unit and honorary professor at Dundee University, said: "We have chosen subjects that could have significant cost consequences if not approached in the correct manner - soon.

"Now is the time to prepare. Getting your systems in place now will cost far less than compliance after the fact."

Solicitor Noele Wilson said the government estimated that employers faced a bill of up to £220 million to comply with legislation outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion or belief, and age.

"Further and Higher Education: Today's Issues" on October 7, Murrayfield Stadium Conference Centre, Edinburgh. More information: events@thorntonswc.co.uk ; tel: 01382 229111.

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