Disability charity harassed employee because of her disability, tribunal rules

A charity that supports people affected by a spinal cord injury harassed an employee because of her disability, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Two other complaints brought against the Back Up Trust related to reasonable adjustments and indirect discrimination partially succeeded after the charity failed to keep course evaluation documents confidential. 

Two additional complaints of unauthorised deduction from wages and sex discrimination failed and were dismissed. 

The London South Employment Tribunal documents show that Beth Norgrove was employed at the charity as events and challenge assistant from August 2018, initially on a part-time basis. 

Norgrove had suffered with anxiety and depression since she was a teenager, but the documents show that she was in a much better position to manage her mental health by the time she started at the charity, although she was vulnerable to relapse. 

After a positive start to her employment, there was a “significant change in her performance” following an appraisal in October 2018. 

The documents show her performance dropped due to a decline in her mental health, difficult personal circumstances, and difficulties and unhappiness in her team after some departures. 

Norgrove’s relationship with the charity appeared to break down further after she unsuccessfully applied for the more senior role of events and challenge fundraiser in July 2019. 

The documents show that Norgrove “no longer felt valued and resolved to leave as soon as she found an alternative job”. 

On 16 September, Norgrove provided written notice of resignation to end on 17 October 2019.

Following this she attended a skills course in Edinburgh, which was also where her boyfriend lived. 

The documents show Norgrove struggled with sharing a hotel room and the intensity of the course, which resulted in a panic attack. 

Staff at the charity agreed to let her leave the course and spend the night with her boyfriend and checked in with her in “sympathetic terms”, but the documents also show there was some scepticism regarding Norgrove’s reasons for leaving the course. 

She completed the course and the charity subsequently evaluated all participants and saved the feedback in a folder which was not password protected or marked confidential. 

Norgorve spent a week in Edinburgh after the course finished on 1 October 2019. 

The documents show she felt there was a “strange atmosphere” in the office on her return. She was told she could take “garden leave” for the final week of her employment but as “this was not the norm” she checked what the group leaders had said in the course evaluation feedback. 

Next to a question about events or near misses, one group leader had written, “Beth’s midnight adventures”.

Employment judge Daniel Dyal said that in considering whether a remark could amount to harassment, the tribunal had to ask itself whether, objectively, the remark related to the person’s disability. 

The tribunal found that the “midnight adventures” comment was not intended to cause offence or for Norgrove to see, and “probably intended in a light-hearted way”, but Dyal added: “However, the intent behind the comment is no more than a non-determinative factor.”

Dyal said he there was no basis to draw inferences of sex discrimination or that a short period of additional duties warranted a pay increase. 

He also accepted that the charity did not know Norgrove was a disabled person at the time it could have made reasonable adjustments.

Abigail Lock, chief executive of the charity said: “We are pleased that the majority of the claims have been dismissed and we have been vindicated.    

“We were surprised and disappointed that the tribunal found against us in three areas.  

“These are all a result of the same facts relating to a document being sought out and unexpectedly accessed by the claimant and interpreted in a way that it was known to not be intended.  

“Steps have been taken to ensure this cannot occur again and we will seek to learn lessons.”   

The ruling does not make any mention of whether a remedy hearing will be required to set any compensation for Norgrove.


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