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An employer will not be liable for disability discrimination unless it knew about the employee’s disability (or should have known about it). But what if an employer disciplines someone for misconduct that they don’t know is connected to a disability?
Mr Grosset worked for City of York Council as a teacher. He had cystic fibrosis, which the Council accepted was a disability. After a change in management, his workload increased and he struggled to cope. He suffered stress which made his cystic fibrosis worse. During this time, he showed the 18-rated film ‘Halloween’ to a group of 15 year olds. He later said this was an error of judgement caused by the stress which was linked to his disability. The school disciplined and subsequently dismissed him. At the time of the dismissal, medical evidence did not link the decision to show the film to Mr Grosset’s disability. By the hearing, new medical evidence linked the misconduct to his disability.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed that Mr Grosset had suffered discrimination arising from disability. The employer did not know that the misconduct was linked to disability at the time of dismissal. However, knowledge is not relevant in such claims. The tribunal relied on the evidence put forward at the hearing, not the information the employer had when it dismissed Mr Grosset. The school then tried to justify its actions. They said they had the legitimate aims of safeguarding the children and maintaining disciplinary standards. However, the EAT said they could not show that Mr Grosset’s dismissal was a proportionate way of doing it.
This case highlights the different ‘knowledge’ requirements in discrimination claims. Employers will often be taking a higher risk when disciplining someone with a disability, although often it will be unavoidable.