University Manager Succeeds in Unfair Dismissal/Disability Discrimination Claims


Redundancy processes that lack transparency or fail to pay particular regard to the position of disabled employees are highly likely to result in costly Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings. That was certainly so in the case of a university faculty manager who lost her job in the midst of a restructuring exercise.

The woman suffered from depression and general anxiety disorder and was agreed to be disabled. With a view to cutting costs and achieving greater efficiency, the university decided to merge her faculty with another. She and a number of other managers were informed that they were at risk of redundancy.

She had the opportunity to apply for two alternative positions in the new structure but was on sick leave at the relevant time and not well enough to attend interviews. She was dismissed on grounds of redundancy after failing to obtain either of those positions. She subsequently launched ET proceedings.

Ruling on the matter, the ET found that a genuine redundancy situation had arisen and that the university’s approach to it was, in broad terms, reasonable. There was a potentially fair reason for her dismissal. It was not inherently unfair to have regard to her state of health when considering whether she was likely to be fit enough to take up one of the alternative positions within a reasonable period.

In nevertheless upholding her unfair dismissal claim, the ET noted that the selection process was presented to her as an assessment of her skills and knowledge. At no stage was it suggested to her that the university might believe that her health issues precluded her appointment. She was given no chance to respond to such concerns, and occupational health reports which indicated that she would be capable of a phased return to work within a few months were not taken into account.

The ET rejected the university’s plea that her dismissal was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Her dismissal was also discriminatory in that it was unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of her disability. Her compensation, if not agreed, would be assessed at a further hearing on the basis that she lost a one-in-three chance of being appointed to one of the alternative posts and a one-in-two chance of appointment to the other.

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