DLA Piper denies lawyer's discrimination claim
National firm DLA Piper has appeared before the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) this week to deny a lawyer's claim that it discriminated against her on the grounds of her 'perceived' disability.
The claimant, known only as 'J', claims the firm offered her a job as a professional support lawyer in June 2008. When completing the telephone pre-employment health questionnaire, J disclosed that she had a history of depression. She alleges the firm withdrew its job offer immediately after the disclosure, and claims that during the same telephone conversation the firm said it had instigated a 'recruitment freeze'.
J's original employment claim was struck out by the employment tribunal in March 2009 on the grounds that she was not disabled under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995. This is now being appealed in the EAT, where it is being heard by the EAT president because of the complexity of the issues at stake, which relate to the 'perception' of a disability.
J is seeking compensation for damage to injured feelings, which carries a maximum award of £30,000.
J’s solicitor, Kiran Daurka of national firm Russell Jones & Walker, said the case focused on the stigma experienced by individuals who have suffered depression or other mental illness, and sought clarification of the DDA where it applied to mental health.
'The tribunal judge ruled that although J had been taking anti-depressants for some years, she suffered no impairment as a result of her condition and so was not disabled under the DDA,' she said. 'We contend that the claimant's history of depression led DLA Piper to "perceive" she was disabled and to discriminate against her on those grounds.'
Daurka said the appeal could see the case referred to the European Court of Justice for clarification before it is returned to the employment tribunal. European law already recognises disability by perception through the European framework directive for equal treatment in employment. The Equality Bill currently before parliament is intended to bring provisions into UK legislation to address discrimination suffered by jobseekers after completing pre-employment health questionnaires.
Daurka began representing J pro bono, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission is now funding the case.
A spokeswoman for DLA Piper said the firm could not comment because the case was ongoing.