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Discrimination arising from a disability

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If a Claimant’s conduct arising from a disability is a minor contributing factor to a decision taken by the Respondent, then does that decision amount to discrimination arising from a disability under s15 Equality Act?

Yes, held the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Bodis v Lindfield Christian Care Home but, on the facts, the treatment was justified so the Claimant’s claim still failed. 

The disabled Claimant suffered from depression and anxiety. After investigating, the Respondent found her responsible for a series of incidents and dismissed her. The incidents included drawing facial hair on photos of female staff. Also, spilling water and reed diffusers and turning off the boiler. The Claimant's short and evasive answers at interview were acknowledged to have been part of the reason that the matter went forward to disciplinary.

The tribunal dismissed the Claimant’s claims of unfair dismissal and discrimination arising from a disability. The tribunal accepted that the manner in which the Claimant answered questions in the investigation meeting arose in consequence of her disability. They also found that it had influenced the decision to take the matter to a disciplinary. However, as it had only been a ‘trivial’ influence and not the ‘effective cause’, the tribunal held that the decision did not ‘arise from’ the conduct.

The EAT disagreed. To establish liability for discrimination arising from a disability, the something arising can be a minor component of the reason for the treatment - provided it is an ‘effective cause’. Here, it was clearly one of the causes. The fact that it was a minor one did not mean that the claim was not made out. However, the EAT went on to find that the appeal still failed as the tribunal had made it clear that the Respondent’s decision to take the matter to disciplinary was justified in any event.