Lancashire County Council to Pay £800,00 To Teacher Who Faced Disability Discrimination
In the case of Mrs J A Healey v Lancashire County Council, the tribunal has ordered Lancashire County Council to pay the claimant £800,713.59. This follows her successful disability discrimination and unfair dismissal claims back in 2021.
If you have experienced disability discrimination, read our guide.
The Facts in Mrs J A Healey v Lancashire County Council
Mrs Healey (“The Claimant”) began working for Lancashire County Council (“The Respondent”) as an early years’ specialist in 2012. This followed a successful career with the respondent since 1995.
In November 2014, Mrs Healey received her cancer diagnosis, subsequently beginning a sickness absence from 1 January 2015. She remained on work absence throughout the whole of 2015, receiving operations and chemotherapy.
Then, in February 2016, Mrs Healey requested a return-to-work plan. The Lancashire County Council agreed upon this in April, phasing her back into her full-time position. Whilst back at work, Mrs Healey continued to receive treatment, with further chemotherapy in October.
Later, in May 2017, Mrs Healey began a second period of sickness absence. Despite hoping to return to work by the end of 2017, the claimant could only discuss her return in January 2018.
Lancashire County Council Restructure
On 2 February 2018, Mrs Healey met with the respondent to discuss her return to work. Unfortunately, this didn’t come through, as the claimant’s ill health kept her off throughout 2018.
On 16 May, consultations about the Lancashire County Council having a restructure began. Mrs Healey was informed of the restructuring and invited to a briefing on 4 June but couldn’t attend due to ill health.
Then, the claimant received an email on 18 July inviting her to express interest in roles she’d been ringfenced for. These included the early years quality improvement lead and the senior early years consultant. The following day, she replied, expressing interest in the quality improvement role, broadly similar to her current role.
The respondent replied, asking Mrs Healey to confirm circumstances that may affect her ability to attend the interview. In response, the claimant outlined that her ill health may prevent her from attending.
However, the respondent didn’t ask if any reasonable adjustments were needed. Furthermore, during the interview, the respondent asked if adjustments regarding breaks would be required, but nothing else was discussed.
Moreover, the chemotherapy treatments had impacted Mrs Healey’s memory, and she’d been absent from work for a substantial time. As such, questions about current challenges in the sector and what she’d done to address them, among others, significantly disadvantaged the claimant during her interview. Therefore, despite knowing the claimant’s capabilities, the respondent scored her interview poorly.
On 29 August, Mrs Healey received an email offering her the senior early years consultant role. This was effectively a demotion from the early years quality improvement lead role, similar to the one she’d had for the past six years. The claimant was then provided with a formal offer on 28 September, requesting a response by 12 October and outlining her rights to appeal.
Mrs Healey’s Appeal
On 8 October, Mrs Healey appealed the decision of the Lancashire County Council. She pointed out the lack of reasonable adjustments made during her interview and believed her demotion was a form of cancer discrimination.
On 18 October, the respondent invited Mrs Healey to an appeal hearing on 29 October. However, Mrs Healey informed the respondent of her intent to submit a grievance before the hearing, which postponed it.
The Claimant’s Grievance
On 23 November, Mrs Healey’s solicitors gave the respondent a written grievance. This included allegations of harassment, victimisation, direct and indirect discrimination and failure to make reasonable adjustments.
Eventually, a grievance meeting was held on 13 September 2019, with the outcome provided to the claimant on 27 November. Mrs Healey’s grievance wasn’t upheld, as the respondent didn’t believe she had been subject to victimisation and stated that reasonable adjustments had been offered to her. Moreover, they felt the interview hadn’t disadvantaged her, and the applicant who gained her role did so on merit.
Therefore, Mrs Healey appealed the decision on 3 December and was invited to an appeal hearing on 14 January 2020. Sometime later, the claimant discovered her appeal was also unsuccessful on 21 April.
Lancashire County Council Dismisses the Claimant
On 5 October, the claimant received an email asking her to accept the offered role or proceed with her appeal that had been postponed, requesting a response within seven days. As such, an appeal hearing took place on 19 November.
However, just like the claimant’s grievances, her appeal was unsuccessful. Where Mrs Healey believed the role offered was a demotion, the Lancashire County Council explained that her previous position had a lower salary and fewer duties than her desired quality improvement role.
Following the unsuccessful appeal, the respondent wrote to Mrs Healey concerning alternative suitable employment they would offer her. They added that if not accepted, they would have to consider alternatives, including her dismissal.
Since Mrs Healey wouldn’t accept the new role, on 28 April 2021, the respondent issued a notice of dismissal with 12 weeks notice. The respondent explained the claimant could still accept the offer within the notice period.
Yet Mrs Healey wasn’t interested in this role, so she appealed her dismissal on 4 May. She felt her dismissal was unfair and that she’d faced cancer discrimination. An appeal hearing took place on 23 June, but again, this wasn’t upheld, leading to her claiming to an employment tribunal.
The Decision of the Employment Tribunal
The employment tribunal ruled in favour of Mrs Healey on several of her claims, dismissing a few. Firstly, they held that she’d experienced unfavourable treatment arising from her disability, her cancer. This is because the Lancashire County Council made her interview for a position she’d effectively held for years, which the tribunal deemed unnecessary.
Secondly, the tribunal stated that she’d experienced indirect disability discrimination. This is because she was put at a substantial disadvantage when interviewed compared to her counterparts. Furthermore, they explained the respondent had failed to take steps to remove such disadvantage through reasonable adjustments.
Finally, the tribunal concluded the claimant had faced an unfair dismissal. This is because the respondent reasoned the claimant was dismissed due to not accepting the offered role. However, the tribunal felt she shouldn’t have been offered this, as it was effectively a demotion, and should have been offered the preferred quality improvement role.
Therefore, since Mrs Healey succeeded with these claims, the tribunal awarded her £800,713.59.