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Equality Act takes effect in Britain, modernizing civil rights law | Hunter of Justice

Equality Act takes effect in Britain, modernizing civil rights law

by on October 3, 2010  •  In Employment law

Britain's new Equality Law has now taken effect. As I described in greater detail earlier, the Equality Law seeks to integrate and harmonize multiple civil rights statutes into one law with both fundamental requirements that cut across categories, as well as specific provisions geared to particular forms of discrimination. (This summary describes each of its provisions and the changes from current law.)

Regarding an issue with which Americans are quite familiar, the new law forbids discrimination based on gender identity in a range of areas. For both sex/o and g/i, discrimination is prohibited in the provision of goods and services (what we classify as public accommodations), as well as in employment. Another familiar theme in the debates on the bill was the conflict between equality principles and the practice of religion. One of the most controversial aspects of the new law concerned pay equity; the original provisions were watered down after lobbying by business. 

Professor Maleiha Malek of Kings College School of Law (London) has critiqued the conceptualization of equality that the new law represents on the ground that it is unlikely to be effective in countering structural discrimination. ["Modernising Discrimination Law: Proposals for a Single Equality Act for Great Britain," 9 International Journal of Discrimination and the Law 73 (2007)] That seems correct to me. And although some of the provisions are no more progressive than those in American law (such as the quandary over intersectional claims), the integrated approach nonetheless looks quite intriguing, even if not ideal. 

Australia is reportedly considering a similar move.

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