Hall v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police

Following this case, an employee who can show that he or she has been treated unfavourably because of a cause or outcome of his or her disability can pursue a disability discrimination claim. The motivation for the treatment is irrelevant.

Facts

Ms Hall was employed as a Finance Officer. She was diagnosed as suffering from stress and Supraventricular Tachycardia. She had periods of sick leave from work as a result of her conditions.

In November 2010, Ms Hall’s employer, West Yorkshire Police, sent her a notice of investigation which made “vague and wholly unparticularised allegations against her”. This was followed with a letter stating that she was expected to return to work within the next 10 days and to have no further absences for a period of three months.

West Yorkshire Police subsequently tried to arrange meetings with Ms Hall but she was unable to attend due to illness. She was sent two further notices requiring her to return to work. Ms Hall emailed West Yorkshire Police in February 2011 to say that she would not attend any meetings arranged as she felt bullied.

Ms Hall was invited to a disciplinary hearing in respect of the “vague” allegations regarding her sickness absence in March 2011. She was refused extra time to prepare her submissions and   the hearing went ahead in her absence. Ms Hall was dismissed for gross misconduct following the hearing.

Ms Hall brought claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination arising from disability. The tribunal upheld the unfair dismissal claim but dismissed the disability discrimination claim. It concluded that the claim was not made out due to the remoteness of the connection between Ms Hall’s disability and the unfavourable treatment she suffered.

Ms Hall appealed against the decision arguing that the tribunal had adopted the wrong causation test, as the legislation does not require knowledge of the disability to motivate the unfavourable  treatment.

Decision

The EAT upheld the appeal. It said that the tribunal made three errors: (1) the tribunal appeared to behave that it was necessary for Ms Hall’s disability to be the cause of West Yorkshire Police’s action in order for her to succeed; (2) it made a contrast between the cause of the action and a background circumstance; and (3) it was wrong to inquire into the motivation for the unfavourable treatment. It concluded that the tribunal should have found that the necessary causal link between the disability and the unfavourable treatment had been established.

Points to note

This case shows that the burden on the claimant to establish causation in a claim for discrimination arising from disability is low. It will be sufficient to show that the unfavourable treatment has been caused by an outcome or consequence of the claimant’s disability and the employer’s motivation is irrelevant.

It is important to remember that, even if the claimant succeeds in establishing discrimination arising from disability, the usual defences apply and the employer has a chance to defend the claim by showing either that:

  • they did not know or could not reasonably have known that the employee was disabled
  • the unfavourable treatment was objectively justified.