Discriminatory dismissal claim rejected by EAT

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In the EAT case of Stott v Ralli Ltd, an employee said that she had suffered a discriminatory dismissal after she was dismissed for poor performance and went on to say that she was disabled. She was unsuccessful in her claim.

Ms Stott was employed by law firm Ralli Ltd as a paralegal from October 2017.

In November 2017, Ms Stott had a conversation with a solicitor she worked with, Ms Chaudry, about errors in her work. Ms Stott explained that she was having trouble sleeping. In the absence of further information, Ms Chaudry perceived this as a passing comment.

Later in 2017, Ms Chaudry informally spoke to her manager, Mr Reilly, regarding concerns about Ms Stott’s work. She was told to monitor Ms Stott’s work. Mr Reilly also spoke to another colleague who relayed similar concerns.

On 8 January 2018, Ralli dismissed Ms Stott for poor performance. At the dismissal meeting Ms Stott said she had been distracted by a recent bereavement.

Following the meeting, Ms Stott sent an e-mail to HR headed “Grievance procedure”, complaining of discrimination. She explained “I have mental health issues…and a heart condition. You have sacked me on those grounds. You were informed by several communications of these disabilities. The performance of my work is caused by my illness”. She then e-mailed Ralli’s Managing Partner twice to claim she was dismissed on the grounds of discrimination.

On 16 January 2018, there was a grievance meeting at which Ms Stott said her disabilities were “mental health issues, anxiety, depression and a heart condition”. She suggested her performance was affected by her mental health, stated she had “sort of” mentioned her disability at the job interview, and said that she had disclosed her depression when she informed Ms Chaudry that she wasn’t sleeping well. Ms Stott’s grievance was not upheld, and her appeal against the grievance outcome was not successful.

Ms Stott brought an Employment Tribunal claim, arguing that her dismissal was an act of discrimination because of something arising in consequence of disability. Her claim was dismissed by the Employment Tribunal.

At the Employment Tribunal, Ralli accepted that Ms Stott had a mental impairment amounting to a disability when she was dismissed. However, it denied knowledge of that disability at the time of the dismissal. Ralli argued that Ms Stott had only raised mental health issues for the first time following the dismissal. The Tribunal accepted that Ms Stott had not disclosed her disability to Railli before her dismissal. Since Ralli didn’t know, and couldn’t reasonably be expected to know Ms Stott had a disability, there could be no discrimination.

In any event, an employer can defend a discrimination arising from disability claim if the unfavourable treatment can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim (the “justification defence”). Here, the Tribunal found that Ralli had the legitimate aim of “maintaining a high standard of and accuracy in English language in written communications with clients and with the courts, as would be expected of a professional solicitors’ firm”. In turn, the treatment of Ms Stott “in terms of supervision, efforts to correct her work and ultimately dismissal, were a proportionate means of achieving that legitimate aim”.

Ms Stott appealed and the case went to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). Her appeal was dismissed.

The EAT accepted that the Employment Tribunal had not considered whether Ms Stott’s poor performance was in consequence of disability but Ms Stott was unsuccessful on her other grounds of appeal.

Ms Stott had also argued that the Tribunal should have considered whether Ralli knew about her disability following her dismissal. However, the EAT found that the last event she complained of was her dismissal, so there was no need to consider what Ralli knew after that in relation to her claim.

The EAT held that the Employment Tribunal had been fully entitled to find that the justification defence was in any event made out in this case.