Do I Have a Discrimination Case?: The Menopause
A recent discrimination case ruling by an employment tribunal in the UK has overturned the dismissal of, and awarded damages to, a female court worker. This has added an interesting stance to our understanding of workplace discrimination, the Equality Act 2010and to the growing debate on attitudes towards menopause in the workplace.
What was the case for discrimination?
The claimant, Mandy Davies, brought legal action against her employer, the Scottish Court and Tribunal Service (SCTS), when she was dismissed last year after 20 years’ service for ‘gross misconduct’. Ms Davies claimed the allegations surrounding the gross misconduct were based on her disability due to her menopause. At the time of her dismissal, Davies was suffering with cystitis - a symptom of her menopause, when colleagues mistakenly consumed water she believed may contain her medication. As a direct result, Ms Davies was informed that she did not exhibit 'the values and behaviours' of the organisation and was promptly dismissed. This, when viewed in the context of a painful and disruptive menopause, appears to lack the careful and individual consideration all employees expect from their employer.
Is the menopause a disability?
The menopause is a natural occurrence of aging in females aged typically between 45-55 years. Symptoms can range in severity from low mood or anxiety to heavy bleeding and memory loss as in the case brought before the tribunal. Under the Equality Act 2010, a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has an adverse and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities. The menopause is not widely medically nor legally understood to be a disability under these categorisations.
Despite this the tribunal ruled in favour of the claimant and Ms Davies was awarded £19,000 for financial loss and for injury to feelings. Unlike for unfair dismissal, there is no cap on the amount awarded to successful claimants in a discrimination case. The tribunal also ordered that the employer reinstate the claimant in her job.
Does the inconsideration of the menopause constitute discrimination?
In Mandy Davies’ case, had her employer taken action to make reasonable adjustments for her condition under the 2010 Act, the unfavourable treatment she received might not have been ruled unlawful. The gross misconduct accusation and the ultimate dismissal were found to be unjustified in light of Ms Davies disability. Any dismissals relating to conduct at work or sickness absence will be viewed as potential disability discrimination if there was no consideration made of reasonable adjustments to enable the individual to remain at work.
The outcome of this case should be viewed in line with similar rulings in the UK and Europe on discrimination linked to obesity. Employers should bear in mind that a condition related to the menopause which is likely to amount to a disability will depend on the particular circumstances of the individual case. The symptoms linked to Ms Davies’ menopause were unusually severe and ultimately detrimental to her conduct at work, but her employer should have considered the individual and her circumstances before taking action.
While the outcome of Ms Davies' case is unusual in that the menopause is rarely recognised as a disability, what employers should take away from this example is not a closer scrutiny of what may or may not constitute a disability, but rather the importance of making fair and well considered judgements of individual cases before taking actions towards disciplining or dismissing workers.
Do I have a discrimination case?
If you feel that you have been unfairly treated in, or dismissed from, the workplace and that you may have a case for discrimination, in the first instance, you should contact a lawyer. The Employment Team at Lawson-West is highly experienced in handling discrimination cases such as these. Lawson-West are a national provider of expert employment law advice and welcome a free discussion with you regarding your circumstances and potential claim. With offices in Leicester, Wigston and Market Harborough, we are able to meet with you at a time and location that fits in with your schedule.
To schedule an appointment, call Lawson-West today on 0116 212 1000, or fill out an express contact form on our website.