The Public Defender of Rights - Cooperation with Pro bono aliance shows first signs of success
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Cooperation with Pro bono aliance shows first signs of success

27. 05. 2013

Ombudsman successfully handed two cases concerning discrimination to attorneys providing pro bono services. Both were concluded by an out-of-court settlement and the satisfaction of the claim of discrimination victims.

In 2012 the Public Defender of Rights signed an agreement with Pro bono aliance, which associates attorneys providing pro bono services (  ). In the Czech Republic, the legislation still lacks on free legal aid, an agreement of this kind is an important moment in the battle against discrimination. Simultaneously, a suitable instrument for strategic litigation was created. Until the end of 2012, two cases were handed over to two law offices. Both were concluded by an out-of-court settlement and the satisfaction of the claim of discrimination victims.

Discrimination on Grounds of Disability

In the first case, the Defender inquired into discrimination of persons with sight impediment when travelling by public transport. Referring to Public Transport Regulations, the public transport drivers had not allowed the transport of persons with sight disabilities accompanied by dog with specialised training unless the dogs were wearing muzzles. However, this condition is justified only in ordinary dogs which do not enjoy the status of guide or assistance dogs. For disabled persons accompanied by a guide dog it is a limiting restriction because one of the tasks of such dogs with specialised training is, for example, to fetch things etc. When a muzzle is used, the assistance of the dog is excluded entirely. Safety risks for other passengers are reduced by specialised training the guide dogs undergo. A guide dog is comparable to any other necessary compensation aids used by disabled persons (e.g. crutches, a wheelchair etc.). In the end, persons with sight impediment would be in fact excluded from using the public transport.

The Defender ascertained direct discrimination in access to services on grounds of disability. Even after the release of the report of legal analysis and establishing discrimination, there was no remedy to the circumstance the Defender turned to the Pro bono aliance, a civic association cooperating with attorneys representing clients who do not have funds for legal services. He presented the matter to them, suggesting that they secure the representation of the persons with sight impediments in an action against the transport company. Pro bono aliance instantly managed to find an attorney willing to handle the case.

The attorney sent a without prejudice to the transport company, demanding that the transport company amend the terms of transport and expressly set forth an exemption for dogs with specialised training. Subsequently, the transport company carried the amendment out and thus the guide and assistance dogs are no longer required to wear muzzles. Moreover, the transport company apologised in writing to the complainants with disability for the inconvenience caused by discriminatory t terms imposed at the time of travel with specialised l trained dogs.

Discrimination on grounds of age

In the second case, the Defender came to a conclusion that a man aged over 60 was a victim of discrimination on grounds of age because as an applicant for the post of a driver for a technical services company he had been informed during the job interview that the offered job was very physically demanding and therefore unsuitable for elderly persons. Without having examined the medical condition of the applicant, the employer hired a younger applicant. Moreover, the written evidence of the discriminatory conduct existed.

An attorney collaborating with Pro Bono turned to the company with a without a prejudice communication, demanding compensation for emotional harm in the amount of CZK 80,000 (about EUR 3,200). In the above communication the attorney referred to the Defender’s inquiry report. As regards the amount of the sanction, after consulting the Defender, the attorney referred to the fact that besides remedying the harm caused, the sanction should ensure the deterrence sufficiently (see a judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the von Colson case). This principle was also confirmed in the case law of the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic.

The company accused of discrimination accepted an out-of-court settlement and paid the claimed compensation for emotional harm in full to the victim of discrimination.

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