Disability Discrimination - A Question of Cause and Effect

Findings of disability discrimination require proof not only of unfavourable treatment but also of a causal connection between that treatment and a person's disability. That point was thrown into relief in the case of a PE teacher who was dismissed after suffering prolonged mental health problems (Madani Schools Federation v Uddin).

Mr Uddin began working at the Madani High School as a PE instructor on 29 August 2006 and remained in its employment until his dismissal on 5 April 2014. Due to the stress of his work, he was prey to a chronic adjustment disorder, including anxiety and depression. There was no dispute that his condition amounted to a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. His phased return to work after lengthy periods of sick leave did not run smoothly, however, being characterised by disagreements between him and the school's management, which required him to return to work in the Maths and English departments rather than in the PE department.

Mr Uddin was eventually suspended on the basis that he had failed to obey the head teacher's instructions, and was dismissed almost a year later. After he launched proceedings, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that his dismissal was unfair as no credible explanation had been provided by the school as to why he could not have a phased return to work within the PE department. The school did not appeal against that decision.

The ET also upheld five complaints under Section 15 of the Equality Act of alleged discrimination arising from disability on the basis that Mr Uddin had, in a number of respects, been treated less favourably because of his mental health difficulties. In upholding the school's challenge to that decision, however, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that the ET had misapplied the statutory causation test.

The EAT noted that the correct approach to claims under Section 15 of the Act was outlined in Pnaiser v NHS England. Mr Uddin was required to establish that the unfavourable treatment he endured with regard to each complaint was 'because of something arising in consequence' of his disability. The ET had erred in failing to consider the two elements of that test individually, instead adopting a composite approach to the issue of causation.

In the circumstances, Mr Uddin's disability discrimination claims were sent back to a freshly constituted ET for rehearing.