international employment law firm alliance L&E Global
United Kingdom

UK: Disability Discrimination – Compensation

Authors: Rob Hill, Corinna Harris and Sophie Jackson

The employee, Mrs. Wright-Turner, held the position of Director of Public Service Reform at Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council for less than nine months. She suffers from ADHD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which the Tribunal found were disabilities at the relevant time and the employer knew about. Mrs. Wright-Turner was signed off sick with PTSD and her probationary period extended without consultation or notice. She was then dismissed prior to the end of her extended probationary period whilst she was still on sick leave. Mrs. Wright-Turner raised a grievance and appealed against her dismissal, but the employer did not deal with them.

The Tribunal found that Mrs. Wright-Turner was dismissed because of her PTSD and that senior officers at the council, including the chief executive, had tried to deliberately mislead her and the Tribunal.  They found the Council did not adequately consider extending probationary period as an alternative to dismissal.  The Tribunal partly upheld Mr. Wright-Turner’s claims for harassment, direct discrimination and discrimination arising from disability, and decided that the employer had unreasonably failed to comply with the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures in relation to her grievance and her dismissal.

At the remedies hearing, the Tribunal heard evidence that the effects of the dismissal on Mrs. Wright-Turner were very severe, and she has been unable to work since her dismissal. Expert evidence was given that she was unlikely to be able to work again and the deterioration in her health had been caused by the Council’s actions.  She was awarded nearly £4.6 million in compensation, including approximately: £327,000 for past losses; £1,500,000 loss of future earnings to retirement and loss of pension; £140,000 for injury to feelings, aggravated damages, and psychiatric injury; £15,000 exemplary damages; £271,000 non-compliance with Acas Code; and grossing up of £2 million.  The average award for disability discrimination claims for 2022/2023 was £45,435.

Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-House Counsel

This case is a reminder to employers to pause and reflect before any dismissal involving a disabled employee.  Employers should be mindful of their duties towards employees with disabilities, and the importance of properly, fairly and appropriately managing ill-health and sickness absence.  The case also serves as a reminder of the importance of following both internal policies and the Acas Code.

Liability judgment: Wright-Turner v London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and another (liability)

Remedy judgment: Wright-Turner v London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and another (remedy).