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Disability Discrimination - Reasonable Adjustments

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The Court of Appeal has, today (Thurs), handed down its decision in Williams v J Walter Thompson Group Ltd.

. Ms Williams, who is totally blind, was offered a job by JWT as a computer software operator. JWT knew of her disability, and that it would need to make reasonable adjustments, when offering her the job.

A period of two years elapsed during which "nothing much happened", i.e. JWT did little (if anything) towards making reasonable adjustments. Ms Williams eventually resigned and claimed disability discrimination and constructive dismissal.

The bulk of the Court of Appeal's decision simply upholds the ET's findings that there was an unjustified failure to make reasonable adjustments. There is little of legal interest there (although the facts of the case are quite interesting).

Of greater legal interest, however, is the Court of Appeal's statement that an important factor in making the finding of disability discrimination was that JWT employed Ms Williams knowing of her disability (paras. 53-57). Whilst the Court of Appeal does not go on to the next step, the logical inference seems to be that where an employer knows of a disability of a candidate for employment, it cannot offer her the job and THEN consider reasonable adjustments; rather, it must consider reasonable adjustments BEFORE offering the job (when the employer will know less about the disability and, in practice, will be more easily excused for failing to make adjustments). If interpreted strictly, this would seem to result in fewer disabled candidates receiving job offers. This would not appear to support the social policy behind the Act.

Williams v J Walter Thompson Group Ltd.