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Employer Pays £100,000 Price of Disability Discrimination

In a stern warning to employers of the consequences of failing to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has upheld an award of more than £100,000 compensation to a cerebral palsy sufferer who was told that her ‘disability was no excuse’ as she struggled to cope with productivity demands in her catering job.

The dining room assistant had worked for the Salvation Army for 13 years before it transferred catering services at a care home for the elderly to private contractors. The woman – who walks with a limp, has limited use of her right arm and learning difficulties – was left feeling ‘stressed and inadequate’ by her new employer’s efficiency drive and the treatment to which she was subjected was such that she resigned less than 18 months after the transfer.

In ruling that she had been a victim of disability discrimination and harassment and had been constructively dismissed unfairly, an employment tribunal noted that her manager’s ‘main and perhaps only focus lay in improving the productivity of the catering service’ whilst making no allowance for her disabilities. When she was given tasks that she had difficulty in performing, she was informed that ‘disability is no excuse’.

The woman was, inter alia, awarded over £4,000 in basic compensation, £18,000 for injury to her feelings and more than £17,000 in respect of lost earnings up to the date of the remedies hearing.  Over £44,700 was awarded for future loss of earnings, on the basis that she very unlikely to find alternative employment prior to reaching retirement age, and more than £15,000 was awarded in respect of lost pension rights. Her employer was also ordered to contribute £7,500 towards her legal costs.

In appealing against the future losses element of the award, the employer argued that she would have been made redundant in any event if she had not been unfairly dismissed. The Salvation Army had subsequently taken back catering services at the home and introduced a new system requiring fewer catering staff. It was also argued that she would have been incapable of performing essential elements of her job, including working a dish washer and handling hot teapots.

In dismissing the appeal, however, the EAT noted that the woman’s original role in the home had been ‘created for her’ by the Salvation Army and stated that it could detect no error of principle in the tribunal’s decision.  After resuming the provision of catering services at the home, the charity would probably have continued to employ her by making reasonable adjustments to overcome her difficulties. In awarding costs against the employer, the tribunal had also been entitled to take into account the company’s unreasonable conduct in resisting the claim.