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Knowledge of consequences of a disability not required for unfair dismissal

The Claimant was employed as a Teacher by City of York Council (“the Council”). The Council was aware that the Claimant suffered from cystic fibrosis which made him a disabled person under the Equality Act 2010.

Due to the Claimant’s condition, he was required to spend three hours per day completing exercises to clear his lungs. Due to an increase in workload the Claimant suffered stress which in consequence worsened his cystic fibrosis.

During this period of stress, the Claimant showed an 18-rated film to classes of 15 and 16 year olds. The Council suspended the Claimant and subsequently dismissed him for gross misconduct.

The Claimant brought claims for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.

The Law

Under section 15(1) of the Equality Act 2010 discrimination arising from disability occurs when:

  • A treats B unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of B’s disability.
  • A cannot show that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Decision

The Employment Tribunal upheld the claim of discrimination arising from disability and the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) dismissed the Council’s appeal.

The EAT found that the reason for the Claimant’s dismissal was the misconduct (in having shown an underage audience an 18-rated film) but that the misconduct arose in consequence of the Claimant’s disability (based on medical evidence that was not available at the time of dismissal). The Council were found to have treated the Claimant unfavourably by dismissing him for the offence of misconduct.

The EAT also held that section 15 of the Equality Act 2010 did not require the Tribunal to decide whether the Council knew that there was a link between the misconduct and the Claimant’s disability, it was enough for there simply to be a link.

Comment

This case demonstrates that where an employer is aware that an employee is disabled, in terms of how it treats that employee, it does not require knowledge of the ‘something’ arising from a disability to be found in breach of section 15 of the Equality Act 2010.

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