Disability discrimination “by association”

People can be discriminated against not because of their own disability, but through association with someone else who is disabled. An example of this is given below.

Atlas Ward Structures Ltd is an engineering firm that employs around 1,000 workers. Mr Bainbridge was employed by the company as a temporary welder along with 12 other co-workers. His wife suffered from medical problems, and the company later conceded at the tribunal hearing that she is disabled for the purposes of discrimination law.

In late September and October 2011 Mr Bainbridge was told that his contract would not be renewed. He was “shocked”, as he had not understood that there was any likelihood of redundancies, and had expected to be kept on when his contract came to be renewed. He asked why he had been selected, but did not receive an answer. He believed that the reason was his wife’s disability. He suggested that the amount of time that he had had to take off work, particularly at short notice, had “irritated” the manager, and this was why he had been selected. At no point was Mr Bainbridge provided with a reason as to why it had been him, rather than any of the 12 or so other welders in the same temporary position.

The employment tribunal stated that the crucial issue was causation: why had Mr Bainbridge’s contract been selected for non-renewal? On the evidence before the tribunal, Mr Bainbridge was well respected, experienced and qualified, and generally well regarded by the company. His attendance record, save for the periods of leave he had taken at short notice, was good – there was “no obvious or apparent reason” why he had been selected. Mr Bainbridge’s unchallenged evidence was that other employees who had been taken on after him had had their contracts renewed.

The tribunal accepted, “in the absence of any other plausible reason”, that Mr Bainbridge had been selected because he had, on occasion, taken leave at short notice, causing the company some inconvenience. The tribunal found that “faced with the need to select workers, [the company] had decided to remove this possible future source of inconvenience…by selecting Mr Bainbridge”.

The tribunal awarded Mr Bainbridge £10,500 in compensation and made further recommendations about his reinstatement.


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