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Press Release

 

Issued November 26th 2005

 

"UNISON wins landmark case at Employment Tribunal”

 

In a landmark judgment, UNISON has won a case brought under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. UNISON'S member suffers from a condition known as Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), which in simple terms is a mild form of autism. The case was brought against the London Borough of Ealing on behalf of Mr Mark Isles, a principal officer working for the council, who had applied for an internal secondment but had been turned down.

 

Stuart Barber, UNISON’s Regional Officer, says:

 

“I very much welcome this judgment.  It sends a clear message tto all employers that they must treat people with disabilities with dignity and respect and not as second-class citizens.  This is particularly so given my own personal experience of disability cases lodged in the past at Employment Tribunals.

 

The council must show and demonstrate it has learned some important lessons from this ruling.  It must make an example of those in management who were responsible for this discrimination and ensure that this will never happen again”.

 

The council had accepted that Mr Isles had AS, but had sought to show that it was too mild to be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act - having earlier used AS as a justification for rejecting his application!  However, the tribunal accepted that, cumulatively, the effects of Mr Isles' AS were substantial and that therefore he was covered by the Act. 

 

In March 2004, Mr Isles had applied for a Business Design Project Officer post but was not short-listed despite having done an almost identical job satisfactorily only a few months earlier and the fact that he was even asked to stay on in this job.  UNISON challenged this decision but both the original complaint and subsequent grievance were rejected.

 

In a letter to Mr Isles, dated April 28th 2004, Mr John Anderson (currently a "Change" Director at Ealing Council) wrote:

 

“We have considered, if necessary, whether we would be able to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate some body with this disability in the role of Business Design Project Officer. We have concluded that it would be unlikely as the role demands competency in several areas but that someone with (his) disability may find difficult...”

 

Furthermore, this conclusion was reached even after an independent assessment of Mr Isles' disability had been conducted by Mr Amin Ladha, a senior diversity consultant from the council’s human resources (HR) team.  

 

The judgment notes that both Mr Ladha and Mr Anderson had appraised themselves by downloading information from a lay persons’ website on AS.  But, the tribunal noted that there was no discussion between officers and Mr Isles regarding the effects his disability had upon him in terms of his day to day activities and work environment.

 

The tribunal concludes the rejection of Mr Isles' grievance was based on the council’s perception of his disability and its impact, were he to be offered the post.  Accordingly, the tribunal found the case for disability discrimination to be well founded.

 

In accordance with the council’s own procedures there should have been an assessment of Mr Isles in the light of his disability and not what the council perceived to be the effects it had upon him. 

 

They ought to have engaged in a group discussion about Mr Isles' scores in order to arrive at a consensus.  They were therefore under a clear duty to make such a reasonable adjustment when reconsidering Mr Isles’ job application.  Again the tribunal confirmed that there had been a failure to make reasonable adjustments.

 

A further Employment Tribunal hearing will decide what remedies it recommends (including any

compensation) and this will be heard on December 2nd 2005.

 

Mr Isles has welcomed this judgment and says:

 

“I am delighted with the outcome and feel vindicated in bringing this action. I should never have been turned down for this job and hope that the council will choose to sit down and discuss with my UNISON representatives and me how we can learn from this whole experience. 

 

I hope to be reassured that the council welcomes disabled people in its employment and will in future provide appropriate support and career development opportunities.  I am grateful for the solid support and hard work by UNISON and my lawyers in achieving this outcome.”

 

Steve Barton, an Ealing UNISON Branch officer, also welcomed the judgment and says:

 

"I am dismayed at the number of cases of poor treatment we have uncovered in recent months. The council claims to be an equal opportunities employer but it is clearly failing to meet its legal obligations. It is small wonder then that the numbers of people with disabilities in the council's employment is so low. Rather than being a beacon of good practice, the council appears to have an appalling record".

 

Mr Barton has threatened to write to the Department of Work & Pensions to ask them to step in and offer the council some much needed advice and assistance. The department vets councils and awards those authorities with a supposedly good record the "two ticks" logo to show they are positive about employing disabled people. For example, this is used on job advertisements.

 

Mr Barton says:

 

"The council no longer deserves this accolade and should be stripped of this award. Until the council demonstrates it is serious about tackling disability discrimination it cannot claim this honour".

 

The case was heard at Watford Employment Tribunal on 14-20 September 2005 and the written judgment was issued on 18 November 2005 (Case Number 3301433/2004).

 

Further Information :

Please contact : Sukhminder Kalsi (Branch Chair, UNISON Ealing Branch),

4 Longfield Avenue, Ealing, London W5 2UQ. Tel. : 020-8825-7999

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