Friday, November 04, 2005

Disabled man's landmark victory after job rejection

This story appeared in the Liverpool Daily Post.

A DISABLED man who was rejected for a sales job at a stairlift company has won a landmark discrimination case at the Court of Appeal. Iain Smith, of Runcorn, yesterday became the first person to successfully fight a recruitment appeal under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Mr Smith has a severe form of arthritis called Lumbar Spondylosis, which means he has difficulty walking and carrying heavy objects. He was turned down for a job selling radiator covers at UK company Churchills Stairlifts after a successful interview because of his condition, in September 2003.

Between the job offer and the start of training, Churchill's decided sales employees would have to carry full size models of their radiator covers and Mr Smith would be unable to do this because of his impairment.
The company withdrew the job offer despite Mr Smith suggesting various alternatives including a trial period without using sales aids.

Yesterday Mr Smith said he was pleased with the Court of Appeal ruling. He said: "This was a job I was absolutely right for - and had the sales experience which would have really benefited the company. "But they couldn't see past my disability. And they couldn't understand the simple adjustments which could have been made to the job so that I could be effective."

The decision follows a lengthy court battle for Mr Smith, who previously lost an Employment Tribunal and subsequent Employment Appeal Tribunal. Both found the majority of the population would not have been be able to lift the sales aids, so Mr Smith was not placed at a disadvantage.

But yesterday the Court of Appeal ruled the previous approach taken by the tribunals was wrong. It clarified that Mr Smith suffered a disadvantage because he was unsuccessful in getting the job at Churchill's and this was a direct result of his disability. It also ruled that Churchill's Stairlifts should have made an adjustment to the way Mr Smith worked to overcome this disadvantage.

Lord Justice Maurice Kay said: "I accept the submission on behalf of the appellant that, if the employment tribunal had properly directed itself, it would inevitably have found that the appellant had established that he was at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to persons who were not disabled. "On that basis, there would have been an equally inevitable finding that to allow the appellant to sell by means other than by carrying a full-sized radiator cabinet on a trial basis was a reasonable adjustment." The employment tribunal will now decide how much compensation Mr Smith should receive.

Mr Smith's case was supported by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).
Last night, Bert Massie, chairman of the DRC, said: "This judgement clearly shows that employers shouldn't put obstacles in the way of disabled people applying for work. "Discrimination against disabled people at recruitment has been very difficult to prove so I'm delighted this case has been successful. "Only half of working age people who have an impairment or long-term health condition are in work, but many more would like the opportunity."

No one was available for comment from Churchill's last night.