Is it discrimatory to suspend a teacher who can only write by hand for a few minutes? Ahmed v The Cardinal Hume Academies

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (‘EAT’) has held in the case of Ahmed v The Cardinal Hume Academies that it was reasonable for an employer to suspend an employee for his writing difficulty.

Discrimination

Under section 15(1) of the Equality Act 2010, “discrimination arising from disability” occurs where both:

  • A treats B unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of B’s disability.
  • A cannot show that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
Harassment

Under section 26(1) of the Equality Act 2010, harassment is defined as: A person harasses another if they engaged in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, and the conduct has the effect of:

  • Violating another person’s dignity, or
  • Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment for another person.
Facts

Mr Ahmed (‘the Claimant’) worked for the Cardinal Hume Academics (‘the Respondent’) as a teacher. Following the head teacher’s concerns about his handwriting difficulty and how competent he was for the role, the Claimant was suspended until the issue was considered further.

The Claimant suffered with dyspraxia. This caused him to have difficulties with his handwriting. He also suffered from pain when writing which meant that he could only write for a few minutes at a time. The Claimant raised a grievance and subsequently resigned claiming that he had been the victim of direct discrimination and harassment.

The Employment Tribunal (‘ET’) dismissed his claims finding that it was not reasonable in the circumstances for the head teacher’s conduct to be regarded as constituting harassment.

The Claimant appealed and argued that the ET had taken the wrong approach to harassment by placing too much emphasis on whether the head teacher’s conduct was reasonable or not. Instead, the Claimant contended that the Tribunal had erred in relation to his claim of direct disability discrimination in failing to give effect to its own finding that the reason for the Claimant’s suspension was his disability, namely his difficulty in handwriting.

Outcome

The appeal was dismissed. The EAT held that it had not misapplied its approach to harassment or made a mistake with its finding of direct discrimination.

It had applied the approach set out in Pemberton v Inwood which was that if it was not reasonable for the conduct to be regarded as violating the Claimant’s dignity or creating an adverse environment for him, then it should not be found to have done so. For the Claimant’s direct discrimination claim, the EAT held that it had not misapplied its own findings.

The EAT concluded that he had been suspended because of difficulties with his handwriting, which was not the disability itself. Accordingly, the suspension was not considered to be direct discrimination.

Implications for employers

As is apparent in this case, Tribunals will place significant weight as to whether the conduct was reasonable as to be regarded as harassment. The tribunal had however rightly taken into account the perception of the Claimant and the other circumstances in reaching its decision. As a result, there is often a fine line between these points, and so it should be remembered that acting in a reasonable manner when suspending, pending an investigation, should be paramount as to provide best chances of a successful claim.

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