Employment tribunal wrong to strike out menopause disability discrimination claim
Menopause disability discrimination claim
The Employment Appeal Tribunal has ruled in Rooney v Leicester City Council that an employment tribunal had wrongly decided that a woman suffering with menopausal symptoms was not disabled.
Ms Rooney worked as a social worker for Leicester City Council. She brought various claims against the Council, including a claim for disability discrimination. This concerned the Council's treatment of her in relation to her menopausal symptoms. Her claim form stated that she had suffered from the physical, mental and psychological effects of the menopause for two years and severe peri-menopausal symptoms, including insomnia (causing fatigue and tiredness), light-headedness, confusion, stress, depression, anxiety, palpitations, memory loss, migraines and hot flushes. These had had a negative impact on her life to the extent that she had struggled physically and mentally to cope. Her GP had prescribed hormone replacement therapy and she was under the care of a consultant at a specialist menopause clinic.
Ms Rooney described her symptoms when giving evidence and also told the employment tribunal that they led to her forgetting to attend events, meetings and appointments, losing personal possessions, forgetting to put the handbrake on her car and forgetting to lock it, leaving the cooker and iron on and leaving the house without locking doors and windows. She spent prolonged periods in bed due to fatigue and exhaustion. She also referred to dizziness, incontinence and joint pain.
Employment tribunal rules employee not disabled
A person is disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 if they have a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. "Substantial" means "more than minor or trivial”.
The employment tribunal ruled that Ms Rooney was not disabled and dismissed her disability discrimination claim. She appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal which upheld her appeal.
Employment Appeal Tribunal overturns tribunal decision
The Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that when considering whether the effects of Ms Rooney’s impairment were substantial, the tribunal had wrongly focused on what she could do (noting that she could provide care to her husband and mother), rather than on what she could not do. The tribunal had been wrong to conclude that Ms Rooney’s symptoms did not have a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day to day activities. There was no suggestion that it did not accept her evidence about her symptoms and their impact and the tribunal had not explained how it had concluded that her symptoms had no more than a minor or trivial adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day to day activities.
What does this mean?
It is surprising that the employment tribunal considered that Ms Rooney was not disabled, bearing in mind the severity of the symptoms she described. The case demonstrates how difficult it can be for employees going through the menopause to establish that their symptoms amount to a disability. It comes as we await the results of the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry into menopause in the workplace which could recommend legislative changes to protect menopausal women.
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