News and Events

Disability Discrimination: Reasonable Adjustments

  • Posted

[Thanks to Naomi Cunningham of Outer Temple Chambers for preparing this case summary]

Is it direct discrimination for an employer to refuse to spend on reasonable adjustments a sum similar to what it would spend on financial assistance for an employee with children? Does an employer in these circumstances fail in a duty to make reasonable adjustments? No, and not necessarily, according to the EAT (Underhill P presiding) in Cordell v FCO UKEAT/0016/11/SM. 

Ms Cordell was an FCO employee who, being profoundly deaf, required the support of lipspeakers. A posting to Astana was withdrawn in light of a report estimating the cost of that support at over £300,000 p/a. Ms Cordell relied on the FCO's willingness to pay school fees up to £25,000 per child p/a, and complained of direct discrimination and a failure to make reasonable adjustments. She failed at first instance and on appeal.

The EAT held that there was no direct discrimination: the job was withdrawn because of cost, not because of Ms Cordell's disability. The tribunal's consideration of the cost of lipspeakers in the context of the FCO's total budget for reasonable adjustments and the total cost of embassy staff was legitimate, and what the FCO was prepared to spend on school fees was relevant but not determinative.