Perceived disability discrimination

In Chief Constable of Norfolk v Coffey the EAT upheld a finding of disability discrimination by perception. It was found that if a non-disabled job applicant is rejected due to the perception that a condition may become a disability in the future then this is considered direct discrimination.

In this case the Claimant, Ms Coffey, a serving police officer for Wiltshire Police, applied for a transfer to the Norfolk Police Force. Ms Coffey had slight hearing loss. She was accepted by Wiltshire Police notwithstanding the hearing loss as she passed a hearing function test. This would have normally meant that she was disqualified from applying for a role within the force. When she applied to transfer, the Norfolk Force did not ask the Claimant to perform a function test but rejected her transfer request as her hearing was just below the acceptable standard and on the basis that her hearing may deteriorate leaving her on restricted duties. The tribunal found that this was direct discrimination based on the hypothetical perception that the Claimant would be disabled in the future.

The EAT noted that if an employer could dismiss an employee, who they wrongly perceived had a disability that may progress to the point at which it could impact their work substantially then there would be a significant gap in the protection offered by equality law.

Written by

Edward Aston
25th January 2018

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