Disability discrimination

Posted on May 17th, 2022

The following case considers the obligation to provide reasonable adjustments when the school was not informed the employee was disabled.

Mr Trotman was employed by the Romero Multi-Academy Company as a teacher from 4 June 2018. He had experienced problems with his eyes since birth and had undergone surgery on various occasions. However, in a pre-employment questionnaire, Mr Trotman had confirmed that he had no physical or mental health problems and no reasonable adjustments needed to be considered. He further confirmed that he required no aids to carry out day-to-day activities.

Request for adjustments

In September 2018, all staff were provided with a Chromebook for use at work. Mr Trotman requested an additional monitor to ‘improve vision’. In December 2018, he also emailed the HR team to request assistance with writing UCAS references. During a meeting in December with the vice principal to discuss the UCAS references, Mr Trotman informed the vice principal that the Chromebook ‘may well be damaging’ his sight due to the size of the screen.

Referral to OH

A referral to occupational health (OH) was offered and a larger screen. Thereafter, Mr Trotman confirmed that the screen was ‘perfect for his visibility’ and did not pursue the OH appointment. Despite this, his relationship with his manager deteriorated and his teaching became the subject of scrutiny. He started a period of sick leave due to work-related stress in April 2019.

Disciplinary investigation

On 4 April 2019, Mr Trotman was invited to attend a disciplinary investigation meeting for allegedly grading a student’s work without sight of the work. The meeting was postponed while it was determined by OH if he was fit enough to attend meetings. The OH report noted that Mr Trotman had ocular pressure in both eyes and underlying genetic eye problems, although there were no reasonable adjustments needed to be made at that time.

Employment tribunal

On 16 May 2019, Mr Trotman was suspended. On 24 May 2019, Mr Trotman resigned and remained on garden leave until 31 August 2019 when his employment terminated. He submitted a claim to the employment tribunal (ET) on 28 August 2019, for discrimination on the grounds of age, disability and race. The claim of disability discrimination, namely a failure to make reasonable adjustments, proceeded to be considered by the ET.

Should the MAT have known?

Having established Mr Trotman was disabled during the relevant period, the ET panel considered whether the MAT knew or ought to have reasonably been expected to know Mr Trotman was a disabled person. In the panel’s judgment, Mr Trotman’s request for computer equipment to improve visibility was enough to prompt the question why. Had this been done, Mr Trotman would have explained his eye condition, which would have prompted an OH assessment and produced a report revealing his impairments and their long term effect on his ability to carry out day-to-day activities. It was concluded therefore that the MAT did not know but could reasonably have been expected to know Mr Trotman was a disabled person by around October 2018.

Substantial disadvantage?

The next consideration was whether the provision, criteria or practice (PCP), in this case the provision of a Chromebook, put Mr Trotman at a disadvantage. The ET found no evidence to suggest the replacement of a laptop with a Chromebook put Mr Trotman at a substantial disadvantage of causing an increase in pressure in his eyes. It was only an assertion by Mr Trotman, which is not evidence. It was concluded therefore that the MAT did not know and could not reasonably be expected to know that Mr Trotman was likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage by the PCP. Further, had he suffered a disadvantage, there was no evidence to conclude that the continued use of an existing laptop would have alleviated or reduced that disadvantage. The MAT had in fact provided larger monitors and had as such taken steps to avoid any substantial disadvantage. There was therefore no duty on the MAT to make reasonable adjustments.

Claim out of time

Despite the above findings, Mr Trotman’s claim had not been presented in time to the ET and was dismissed in any event.

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