Blind NHS worker wins discrimination claim

Posted: 20th May 2013

An NHS worker who was ultimately made redundant following a serious deterioration in her sight is due substantial compensation after the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruled that her employers failed to make reasonable adjustments to cater for her disability and that discrimination contributed to her unfair dismissal.

NHSThe woman worked as a band six senior occupational therapist prior to her eyesight failing and being registered blind. Her condition meant that she could no longer work in any role involving interaction with patients and she was re-deployed to a band four administrative role as a workforce development co-ordinator.

Her employer subsequently embarked on a restructuring exercise and she was informed that she was at risk of redundancy. She was refused permission to apply for a band six staff and patient safety role, on grounds that this was two bands above her current position, and she was later dismissed on grounds of redundancy.

At first instance, an employment tribunal held that there had been a failure on the employer’s part to make reasonable adjustments and that the woman’s dismissal had been unfair. However, the tribunal rejected the woman’s plea that her dismissal was also discriminatory.

In dismissing the employer’s appeal, the EAT ruled that the woman had suffered a substantial disadvantage in that, as a direct result of her visual impairment, she had been re-deployed from a band six to a band four role. It was that demotion which had precluded her from subsequently applying for the band six position when threatened with redundancy.

In considering what reasonable adjustments should have been made, the EAT noted that, had the woman not been disabled, she would have stayed in her original band six post. Her re-deployment was not too remote from the disadvantage she suffered in subsequently being prevented from applying for the alternative band six role.

In allowing the woman’s cross appeal, the EAT noted that, although the employer had wanted to treat all staff equally, it had overlooked the fact that disabled people are sometimes entitled to be treated more favourably than non-disabled colleagues. Finding that the woman’s dismissal was discriminatory, as well as unfair, the EAT observed that her redundancy had been rendered inevitable by the employer’s refusal to allow her to apply for the band six post.

The woman’s case was remitted to the employment tribunal for a remedies hearing to decide the amount of compensation due.