Disability Discrimination: Expensive adjustments were not reasonable

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Posted on 12 Jan 2011

In Cordell v Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), an employment tribunal has found that FCO did not breach its duty to make reasonable adjustments for Ms Cordell (a deaf senior diplomat) when it withdrew an offer to post her to Kazakhstan. Ms Cordell is deaf.  In 2006 she was posted to Poland and, as an adjustment, the FCO provided 3 lip readers to assist her with her role.  The cost of this support was £146,000 per year.  Ms Cordell applied for a promotion.  She was successful in her application, however, the FCO concluded that the adjustments required for the new post were too expensive.  Ms Cordell complained of failure to make reasonable adjustments, direct discrimination and disability related discrimination (under the old Disability Discrimination Act 1995) and each of the claims failed. 

The overall annual costs of the proposed adjustments were assessed (by the ET) to be in the region of £249,500 and the ET concluded that the cost was unreasonable, objectively speaking.  The ET considered the following:

  • The cost - the cost of the proposed adjustments was considerable in that it was more than five times Ms Cordell’s salary.  Furthermore it was more than the entire annual cost of employing local staff at the Kazakhstan embassy and it exceeded the cost of the adjustments in Poland by over £100,000 per year.
  • Proportion of budget - the proposed adjustments would account for a large amount of the FCO’s disability budget (which was £562,934 in 2009/10).  The cost of providing the adjustments in  Kazakhstan exceeded the next largest expenditure on disability adjustments for an individual by about £200,000 and was considerably more than the cost of providing assistance under other policies (such as the payment of school fees policy).
  • Research - the FCO had due regard to its public sector disability duty and its consultation process was "conscientious and extensive" and went well beyond the requirements of their adjustments policy.

This judgment is a first instance judgment, but it gives some useful guidance as to what the ET will look at when determining whether an adjustment is reasonable.  Even though the FCO has (had) a relatively enormous budget, when looked at objectively, this did not make the proposed adjustment “reasonable”.

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