A judge has ruled that services provided abroad by British tour operators are subject to disability discrimination laws, ensuring protection for millions of disabled tourists.
The ruling at Sheffield county court over-ruled a previous judge who found that holiday giant Thomas Cook was not liable for any discrimination once disabled tourist Janice Campbell stepped foot outside Britain.
The victory – which was funded by legal aid – was Campbell’s second successful claim of unlawful discrimination against Thomas Cook, both for holidays at the same hotel in Sousse, Tunisia.
In the latest case, in 2012, she had been told by Thomas Cook that her hotel’s swimming pool would be out of action, but that she would be able to use the pool in a neighbouring hotel.
On arrival at her hotel, she found this arrangement had been cancelled and the only option was to use a third pool which was too far away to be accessible.
She said: “Swimming was a very important part of my holiday. I found it extremely frustrating when Thomas Cook refused to do anything to resolve my complaint.”
After trying unsuccessfully to settle this complaint, she sued Thomas Cook for unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act.
The trial judge found that Thomas Cook had not made the simple reasonable adjustments of either arranging accessible taxis or asking about the cost of using the neighbouring hotel’s pool, and so Campbell should be paid £3,500 compensation for unlawful discrimination.
But he concluded that the company did not have to pay because the discrimination took place outside the UK.
But the appeal judge, His Honour Judge Robinson, has now found that the Equality Act did protect her from discrimination on her holiday, as there was “sufficient connection with Great Britain”.
Campbell, from Sheffield, said: “I am very pleased this case confirms that disabled people are protected against discrimination on holiday.
“I can’t believe that Thomas Cook is spending so much money fighting in court for the right to discriminate.”
Schona Jolly, of London’s Cloisters chambers – where Campbell’s barristers, Catherine Casserley and Sally Cowen, are based – said: “This is the first time that a court has fully considered the application of the Equality Act 2010 to services provided outside the UK.
“It means that service-providers need to respond to the needs of their disabled customers both inside the UK and outside.
“If they do not, they may find themselves liable to court proceedings under the act.”
This is now the second court case Campbell has won against Thomas Cook for holidays at the same hotel in Tunisia.
She secured £7,500 compensation last year over Thomas Cook’s failure to make reasonable adjustments for her in 2011, when its staff refused to find her somewhere to sit or even to hold her place in the queue as she and 1,600 other tourists were being evacuated during the civil uprising.
She later described how she had suffered pain and distress because of being forced to stand for long periods.
When she told Thomas Cook staff that she couldn’t stand much longer, she was told there was nothing they could do and would be left behind if she left the queue.
The court ruled that they could have just found her a chair or held her place in the queue while she sat down.
Thomas Cook is currently appealing this judgement because it argues that the Equality Act did not apply as European Union regulations on air passengers with reduced mobility were in force, even though the incident took place in Tunisia.
Douglas Johnson, of Sheffield Citizens Advice and Law Centre, which supported Campbell, said the case was “good news for the millions of disabled tourists, as it shows they are protected from discrimination by law”.
He said: “We hope this will encourage tour operators to make sure the needs of disabled tourists are provided for when on holiday.”
Johnson added: “This important case shows how legal aid funding can bring benefits to many thousands of people.”
A Thomas Cook spokeswoman said of the latest case: “Thomas Cook are sorry that Mrs Campbell had cause to complain about her holiday to Tunisia.
“We are currently considering the full details of the court judgement.”
9 October 2014