An employer's decision to dismiss a disabled employee for
gross misconduct which was seemingly unrelated to the disability
amounted to discrimination arising from disability.
Mr Grosset was Head of English at a school operated by the City
of York Council. He suffered with cystic fibrosis, which the
Council agreed amounted to a disability. As a result of his
condition, Mr Grosset had to spend up to 3 hours a day doing
gruelling physical exercise to clear his lungs.
A new Head Teacher was appointed who brought in various new
initiatives at the school, leading to an increase in Mr
Grosset's workload. Given the time he had to spend exercising,
the additional workload proved very stressful to Mr Grosset, and
the stress in turn exacerbated his cystic fibrosis.
During this period, Mr Grosset showed 'Halloween', a
violent horror film with a certificate of 18, to a group of
vulnerable 15 and 16 year olds. The Council suspended Mr Grosset
pending an investigation into potential gross misconduct. When
interviewed, Mr Grosset agreed that he had made an error of
judgment but explained that he had been under significant stress,
contributed to by his cystic fibrosis. The medical evidence
available to the Council at the time did not suggest any link
between Mr Grosset's disability and his decision to show the
film. As a result, the Council took the decision to dismiss Mr
Mr Grosset brought claims in the Employment Tribunal against the
Council, including the allegation that his dismissal amounted to
discrimination arising from his disability.
Medical evidence produced during the course of proceedings
suggested that there may be a medical link between Mr Grosset's
behaviour and his disability. On that basis, the Employment
Tribunal and the EAT found that the dismissal amounted to
discrimination arising from disability. By contrast with the law on
reasonable adjustments, it was held that discrimination of this
nature only requires that the employer knows of the employee's
disability – it is not necessary for the employer to have
knowledge of the specific consequences of the disability.
Therefore, although it was reasonable for the Council to determine
that the misconduct was not connected to Mr Grosset's
disability given the evidence it had at the time, the later
evidence can still be relied on to show that the dismissal was
discriminatory and was not objectively justified.
This is a rather scary case for employers, as the Council's
decision to dismiss Mr Grosset on the basis of the information it
had at the time seems reasonable at first glance (and indeed, Mr
Grosset's unfair dismissal claim failed on that basis). The
Council is seeking permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal; in
the meantime, the best thing for employers to do in such a
situation is to seek independent medical evidence before making a
decision as to a disciplinary sanction.
City of York Council v Grosset UKEAT/00151/16
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