Discrimination Arising from Disability

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05 Jul 2017

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The case of Charlesworth v Dransfields Engineering Services Ltd

Under section 15 of the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful discrimination for an employer to treat a worker unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of the worker’s disability. Whether an event arose in consequence of a worker’s disability has recently been examined and guidance has been provided by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) in the case of Charelesworth v Dransfields Engineering Services Limited.

The facts of the case were:
  • Mr Charelesworth was employed by Dransfields Engineering Services (“DES”) as a manager for one of their branches.
  • From around 2012 onwards, DES were not achieving the profitability they wanted, and that resulted in them looking to find cost savings across the business.
  • Unfortunately, in around October 2014, Mr Charelesworth was diagnosed with cancer, which resulted in him being absent from work for two months.
  • Mr Charelesworth then returned to work on a full-time basis.
  • At this time, DES also identified a cost saving of £40,000 if they were to delete Mr Charelesworth’s post as manager in the branch and have his responsibilities absorbed by other members of staff.
Therefore, in March 2015, Mr Charelesworth was informed that he was at risk of redundancy and went through a consultation period. During this time, there were alternative roles which were considered, however no suitable vacancy was available. In April 2015, Mr Charelesworth was informed of his dismissal due to redundancy. Mr Charelesworth then issued claims at the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal, direct disability discrimination and discrimination because of something arising in consequence of his disability. The Tribunal rejected all of Mr Charelesworth’s claims and outlined that with regard to the claim for discrimination arising in consequence of his disability, they could see some link between Mr Charelesworth’s sick leave and his redundancy – as it gave DES the opportunity to see that the branch could operate without a manager in post. The Tribunal outlined that this was not the same as Mr Charelesworth being dismissed because he took a period of sick leave. The Tribunal considered that this was not Mr Charelesworth’s effective cause of his dismissal, it just permitted DES to identify a cost saving, which they could have identified using other methods or circumstances. Therefore, Mr Charelesworth appealed the Tribunal’s decision to the EAT. The President of the EAT – Mrs Justice Simler - heard the appeal and outlined that she agreed with a previous Judgment of the EAT which stated that the words “arising in consequence of” gave a wider causal connection than the words in other sections of the Equality Act, which use the words “because of…”, although she considered the difference in scope was only small. Mrs Justice Simler rejected Mr Charelesworth’s argument that a connection less than an effective or operative cause was sufficient to satisfy the causation test in relation to this type of discrimination. Mrs Justice Simler considered that a significant influence is required, not a mere influence, if the act is to be found to be arising in consequence of the worker’s disability. Therefore, the Employment Tribunal had not made an error in law in their Judgment, Mr Charelesworth’s sick leave was merely the occasion on which DES were able to indemnify that they were able to manage without him and was not the cause of his dismissal. Therefore, this case highlights the required level of influence a worker’s disability has on an event for it to be considered unlawful discrimination in relation to discrimination arising in consequence of a disability.

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