Care charity told to pay £59,000 for discriminating against disabled former employee

An employment tribunal found that the Orders of St John Care Trust failed to make reasonable adjustments for and victimised administrative assistant Stephanie Whitlock

The care charity the Orders of St John Care Trust has been told to pay almost £59,000 after an employment tribunal ruled that it discriminated against a disabled ex-employee.

In court documents published on Monday, based on a hearing that took place in Reading on 12 August and was heard by Judge Gumbiti-Zimuto, the charity was found to have discriminated against Stephanie Whitlock, who worked as an administrative assistant at the charity from 26 July 2016 to 28 October 2018.

Whitlock claimed that the charity failed to make reasonable adjustments and victimisation on the grounds of disability.

The court judgment shows that the charity originally decided that Whitlock was not disabled, but changed its position on 4 February 2019 to accept that she was.

Whitlock asked the charity if she could work part-time and that she be allowed more than one break a day.

The tribunal decided that the request for adjustments because of disability were "medically supported".

The judgment said: "When the claimant’s GP gave her a fit note stating she should work part time, the claimant was told 'no' by her manager. She raised a grievance: this was ignored, and the claimant became frustrated and annoyed.

"During the conciliation process the claimant was frustrated that the respondent was not engaging, and she was prevented from working when she was able.

"The respondent’s attitude and responses added to the stress, fatigue and pressure the claimant suffered. She was afraid and anxious about leaving the office to complete tasks, deliver clients' mail or use the bathroom."

The tribunal heard allegations that Whitlock was unfairly suspended by the charity for alleged wrongdoing, failed to inform her of the investigation and then offered to terminate Whitlock’s employment in January 2018 rather than accept reasonable adjustments.

The charity subsequently failed to properly address Whitlock’s grievance about how the issue of her work arrangements was handled and required Whitlock to take holiday from 15 May until 1 June, then three days of annual leave a week until about 11 June 2018.

The tribunal judge awarded Whitlock £58,685.74 including slightly more than £30,000 for injury to feelings, including interest, and £16,954.37 in costs.

The Orders of St John Care Trust did not defend itself in court.

In the tribunal verdict, the judge said: "I am satisfied that not only was there no reasonable basis for defending the claim against the respondent, but the respondent had no intention of presenting a reasonably competent defence to the claim.

"That conduct in my view is unreasonable."

A statement from the charity said: "The Orders of St John Care Trust takes matters related to our colleagues extremely seriously, especially those related to equality. While we are reviewing our procedures and processes in this matter that led to us not being in attendance, we cannot comment further."

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