The Court of Appeal has considered whether a long delay in dealing with an employee’s ill health retirement amounted to disability discrimination.

Dunn v Secretary of State for Justice and another [2018] EWCA Civ 1998

Facts

Mr Dunn was employed as a prison inspector. Following a period of absence for depression, in November 2014 he applied for ill-health early retirement. There was a long delay in dealing with the initial stages of Mr Dunn’s application, a substantial part of which was due to unnecessary bureaucratic processes. He initiated a grievance about the delay, but the situation was further complicated by his worsening heart condition.

The ill-health retirement was finally approved in December 2015, taking effect in February 2016. Mr Dunn’s claim for disability discrimination for the way in which his employer had handled his application was upheld by the Employment Tribunal, but this decision was overturned on appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Mr Dunn appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Court of Appeal decision

The court accepted that the process was unnecessarily bureaucratic and had been badly handled but dismissed Mr Dunn’s appeal, upholding the EAT’s decision that there had been no disability discrimination. The tribunal had failed to consider the thought processes of the individual decision makers but had concluded that the delay was due to incompetence. It did not follow that an inherently defective process was inherently discriminatory.

Consequences

This decision confirms that a poorly managed process will not, in itself, lead to a finding of discrimination, but in defending the claim it was down to the respondent to effectively admit that delays were down to incompetence rather than anything more. There is a higher risk that a vulnerable individual faced with the frustrations of dealing with such an unwieldy procedure will seek redress through a claim. The Court of Appeal, in this case, endorsed the EAT’s recommendation that the ill-health retirement process be reviewed.