Even those whose medical conditions or incapacities are not so grave as to amount to disabilities can win compensation if they suffer discrimination in the workplace. The Court of Appeal made that clear in upholding a substantial damages award made to a police officer whose hearing was mildly impaired.
The officer’s hearing loss had never caused her any problems in doing her job and it was agreed that it was not a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. However, her application to be transferred to a different force was rejected on the basis of the decision-maker’s perception that her hearing problem meant that she was, or might become, incapable of performing front-line duties.
After she brought proceedings, an Employment Tribunal found that she had suffered direct discrimination, contrary to Section 13 of the Act, and awarded her £26,616 in damages. The decision-maker treated her less favourably on the basis of an actual or potential disability, which amounted to a protected characteristic. That decision was subsequently upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
In dismissing the force’s challenge to that outcome, the Court found that, although the officer was not disabled, what mattered was the decision-maker’s perception that she was, or might become so. The decision-maker believed that she was suffering from a progressive condition that might have a substantial adverse impact on her ability to perform normal day-to-day activities.
The ET was thus entitled to conclude that the decision-maker’s refusal to engage her involved, perhaps subconsciously, a motive or mental process which was affected by a stereotypical assumption about the effects of her perceived disability. The officer had previously performed perfectly satisfactorily in a front-line role and the Court observed that its conclusions in terms of employment law had achieved a just outcome on the merits.