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Disability Discrimination

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Did a poorly handled ill-health retirement procedure amount to disability discrimination?

No, held the Court of Appeal in Dunn v Secretary of State for Justice and anor.

Mr Dunn was a prison inspector employed by the Ministry of Justice. He became ill with depression and a serious heart condition. He applied for ill health early retirement. He claimed disability discrimination because of the way his ill heath retirement was handled. A tribunal found for him, was overturned by the EAT, and he appealed to the Court of Appeal.

There was a long delay in dealing with the retirement application. The Court of Appeal described the process as "unnecessarily bureaucratic". It was not disputed it was badly handled, much to Mr Dunn's distress.

The Court held there was no disability discrimination. As far as the direct discrimination claim was concerned the tribunal had not considered the motivation of the decision-makers: ie whether the fact of Mr Dunn's disability had operated on their minds so as to cause them to act, or fail to act, in the manner complained of.

If a claimant, said the Court, cannot show a discriminatory motivation on the part of the decision-maker, he or she can only satisfy the "because of" requirement in s.13 if the treatment in question is inherently discriminatory, typically as the result of the application of a criterion which necessarily treats (say) men and women differently. In this case, although the ill-health retirement process was inherently defective, it did not follow that it was inherently discriminatory.

Thanks to Dr John McMullen of Wrigleys Solicitors LLP for preparing this case summary.