Diabetic employee awarded £14k for being ‘humiliated’

An employee with type 1 diabetes who was left feeling ‘humiliated’ and ‘highly embarrassed’ during her two months’ employment with a housing company has been awarded £14,000 for disability discrimination and harassment.

Legal Principles

Disability harassment occurs where a person (A) engages in unwanted conduct related to disability and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating another person’s (B’s) dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.

Where B claims that the conduct had this effect (although his was not A’s purpose), the employment tribunal must consider whether it was reasonable for the conduct to have that effect.

Facts

The Claimant was recruited as Fleet Administrator responsible for managing the employer’s fleet of 230 cars. She also had type 1 diabetes which she had not disclosed at her interview. After she had accepted the job offer, the Claimant received a welcome pack from the employer which included a medical questionnaire in which she was asked whether she had a disability. As the Claimant considered her diabetes to be under control and not affecting her life, she ticked ‘no’ against that question but in another part of the form which asked her whether she any medical conditions she included her diabetes.

She worked for the Respondent for just over 2 months. During her short time at the company, the Claimant’s competence was questioned several times. Following a further incident, the Claimant was invited to a meeting at which she was told that her employment was not going to work out, given that she had been spoken to about her competence several times and the company had seen no improvement. She was informed that her employment would be terminated with immediate effect.

Claim

The Claimant brought complaints of direct disability discrimination and disability related harassment.

Claimant’s allegations and tribunal findings

On the Claimant’s first day at the company, she was taken out to lunch by her line manager and another company employee. The Claimant said that, when asked if she wanted a drink, she explained she would not drink alcohol because she had diabetes, alerting the pair for the first time to her diabetes.

After the lunch, the two colleagues exchanged emails in which one said: “Let’s hope so… as long as she doesn’t go into hypoglycaemic shock anytime soon!!!” followed by a ‘shocked face’ emoji.

The Claimant was unaware of this email until sometime later. There was a dispute at the tribunal about how the Claimant found out about the email. The Claimant’s line manager alleged that the Claimant had taken the manager’s phone from her handbag and had searched through her emails. However, the tribunal accepted the Claimant’s explanation that the line manager had given the phone to the Claimant and asked her to check for an email that the Claimant had sent her.

The tribunal rejected the explanation the company employee had sent the email out of genuine concern ruling that it was intended by her to be a joke made at the Claimant’s expense.

Shortly after the lunch, the Claimant alleged that her line manager told her that she had to meet with HR because she failed to tell them that she was diabetic at interview. The company disputed this but the tribunal preferred the Claimant’s explanation. At the HR meeting, the Claimant was asked detailed questions about her medication, asked her what time she took her medication, how regularly she tested her blood, and what she would do if she felt unwell. The tribunal ruled that the questioning of the Claimant at the meeting was excessive, invasive and heavy handed.

At the same meeting, after the Claimant mentioned that she kept a bottle of orange juice with her in case of hyperglycaemic shock, she alleged that she was asked by one of the company’s witnesses at the meeting to show her the bottle. The company’s witness told the tribunal that the Claimant offered to show her the orange juice and, as she did not know much about the illness, she was endeavouring to learn more. The tribunal did not accept the company’s evidence and thought it more likely that the company’s witness asked the Claimant to show her the orange juice. The tribunal accepted that the Claimant found this conversation difficult and invasive and the tribunal thought it unlikely that she would have offered to show the orange juice to the company’s witness without being prompted and would only have done so if asked. It added: “[The company’s witness] did not appreciate that this was not an opportunity for her to learn about diabetes but she treated it as such.”

Subsequently, the Claimant was taken around the office by her line manager to find first aiders so the Claimant could tell them about her condition. The tribunal said: “We find that this must have been highly embarrassing for the Claimant.”

In another incident, the Claimant was part of a group that went on a site visit. They stopped at a food van and another employee asked the Claimant whether she wanted something to eat, to which the Claimant replied that she had everything she needed with her. The employee also asked her whether she had checked her sugar levels. The tribunal ruled that this query was asked “not in the caring sense” but to let the Claimant know the company was keeping an eye on her. The judge stated: “[The Claimant] thought that [the company employee] was trying to catch her out. It is likely that she felt intimidated, under the spotlight and concerned for her job.”

ET decision

The tribunal conceded that the Claimant’s performance “had not been perfect”. However, the employer’s allegations about the Claimant’s competence were not substantial enough to warrant dismissal. The employment judge ruled: “It is our judgment that the main reason for the Claimant’s dismissal was her disability. It is also this tribunal’s judgment that a person with a different disability, with the Claimant’s level of competence, (making the same level of mistakes that she did) would not have been dismissed. The Respondent would have monitored her performance, given her feedback and opportunities to improve and ultimately confirmed her appointment.”

Mrs H Carr v Weston Homes plc: ET no. 3201540/2017

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