Court of Appeal upholds EAT decision that paranoid delusions did not constitute a disability

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The Court of Appeal recently upheld the Employment Tribunal’s decision in the case of Sullivan v Bury Street Capital Limited [2021] that an employee who suffered two episodes of paranoid delusions did not amount to a disability.

For employers, the key point to take away from this case is that, where an employee is suffering ill-health, it is important to establish the effect that the condition has on their ability to carry out day to day activities and to identify the period over which they suffer, or have suffered, the adverse effects.

Case details

Mr Sullivan had been employed by Bury Street Capital Limited, a boutique capital-raising and advisory firm with around six employees, as a Senior Sales Executive since September 2009. Following the breakdown of a short-term relationship with a Ukrainian woman in May 2013, Mr Sullivan became convinced he was being monitored and followed by a gang of Russian nationals connected to her. He was so convinced that he installed CCTV at his property, changed his locks and was nervous about using communication technology in all aspects of his life. He had changed his email address on numerous occasions and had even booked into hotels to avoid having to return home.

During this period, he experienced difficulties sleeping and interacting socially. This affected his timekeeping, attendance at work and record-keeping all matters which had been of concern for his employer prior to 2013.

There was noticeable improvement in Mr Sullivan’s condition in September 2013, which was supported by medical opinion provided in 2014.

Regular review meetings were conducted by his employer between 2014 and 2017 which addressed his timekeeping and attitude. These were listed as areas of improvement. At no point during this period did Mr Sullivan make any reference to the Russian gang.

In April 2017, his condition worsened. He attended a doctor’s appointment on 7 September 2017 when he was signed off work sick. The following day, his employment was terminated by his employer on the ground of capability for poor timekeeping, lack of communication, unauthorised absences and poor record-keeping. Mr Sullivan brought several claims in the Employment Tribunal, including disability discrimination on the basis that he was suffering paranoid delusions, which he claimed constituted a disability, at the time of dismissal.

The Employment Tribunal held that, whilst Mr Sullivan’s paranoid delusions lasted well beyond a 12-month period (between 2013 and 2017), it did not affect his ability to carry out day-to-day activities for the whole time. In fact, the periods where his condition had a substantial adverse impact on him were held to be between May and September 2013 and April to July 2017. Whilst the decision was appealed by Mr Sullivan to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and then to the Court of Appeal, both appeals were dismissed.

If you have any queries regarding this or any other employment matter, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team.