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Discrimination arising from disability

The Court of Appeal in the case of City of York Council v Grosset has considered a case involving discrimination arising from disability.

Background

The Claimant was a teacher employed by City of York Council (“the Council”). He suffered from cystic fibrosis which the Council was aware of and accepted as a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.

When a new head teacher started, the Claimant’s workload increased. As a result of his condition, the Claimant struggled to cope with the new demands and suffered stress which in turn exacerbated his cystic fibrosis.

While the Claimant was suffering from stress he showed an 18 rated film to two classes of 15 and 16-year olds. When this was brought to light, the Claimant was suspended and subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct.

The Claimant argued that he had a momentary error of judgement caused by the stress he was under. He brought a claim for discrimination arising from disability.

The Law

Under section 15 of the Equality Act 2010, discrimination arising from disability occurs where both:

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

Decision

We have previously reported that both the Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld a finding of disability arising from discrimination. They held that the Claimant’s disability had resulted in his misconduct (i.e. the misconduct was “the something” arising in consequence of the Claimant’s disability) and the Council had treated him unfavourably by dismissing him because of that something.

The Council appealed. It argued that it could not be liable for disability arising from discrimination unless the Claimant could show that it had appreciated that his behaviour was a consequence of his disability.

On 15 May the Court of Appeal dismissed the Council’s appeal. It held that there was no requirement that an employer had to be aware, when deciding to subject an employee to unfavourable treatment, that the “something” arose because of their disability.

Comment

This case demonstrates that an employers knowledge of a causal link between “the something” and an employee’s disability is irrelevant. In disciplinary cases involving disabled employees, it may be advisable for employers to seek medical opinion on whether an employee’s actions could be in consequence of their disability before taking any action in order to assess the risk of a successful claim of discrimination arising from disability.

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