An employee with type 1 diabetes who was left feeling “intimidated, under the spotlight and concerned for her job” has been awarded £14,000 for disability discrimination and harassment.
Sitting at East London Hearing Centre, employment judge Jones determined that from the outset of her two months’ employment as a fleet administrator at Weston Homes, Holly Carr was “humiliated” and “highly embarrassed” as a result of the treatment she received at the housing company.
During a staff lunch held to welcome her to the company, attended by her line manager, Lauren Goodwin, and events co-ordinator Gaynor Impiazza on 5 July 2017, Carr said she would not be drinking alcohol because she had diabetes, alerting the pair for the first time to her condition.
The tribunal heard Carr had not felt the need to disclose it in either her interview or her application because it was “under control and not affecting her life”.
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Carr later discovered that after the lunch, Impiazza and Goodwin were involved in an email conversation, during which one message from Impiazza said: “Let’s hope so… as long as she doesn’t go into hypoglycaemic [low blood sugar level] shock anytime soon!!!” followed by a ‘shocked face’ emoji. The email came to Carr’s attention when Goodwin asked Carr to search through Goodwin’s phone for an email thread between the two of them.
Impiazza’s claim that the message was out of genuine concern was rejected by the court and ruled a joke at Carr’s expense.
After becoming aware of Carr’s diabetes, Goodwin told Carr that she had to meet with HR because she failed to tell them she was diabetic during her interview. Another member of staff – Mrs Moorcroft – attended the meeting, and noted Goodwin asked Carr detailed questions about her medication and her strategies for keeping well.
She was asked what time she took her medication, how regularly she tested her blood, and what she would do if she felt unwell.
Carr also stated she kept a bottle of “emergency” orange juice with her, and was asked to hand it over for Moorcroft to see.
Employment judge Jones ruled that “Goodwin’s questioning of [Carr] during this meeting was excessive, invasive and heavy handed.”
Moorcroft also stated she did not know much about the illness and was endeavouring to learn more. However, Jones added: “[Moorcroft] did not appreciate that this was not an opportunity for her to learn about diabetes but she treated it as such.”
On 14 July, Carr was taken around the office by Goodwin to find first aiders so that she could tell them about her condition.
Employment judge Jones found it highly likely that, during this tour of the office, Goodwin said to everyone she spoke to that she and Carr were looking for first aiders, and that “when she was asked why; she introduced them to the Claimant by saying ‘this is Holly, she’s a diabetic’.”
The judge added: “We find that this must have been highly embarrassing for the Claimant.”
In another incident on 6 September, Carr was part of a group, including Moorcroft, that went on a site visit. They stopped at a food van and Moorcroft asked Carr whether she wanted something to eat, to which Carr replied that she had everything she needed with her. Moorcroft also asked her whether she had checked her sugar levels. The tribunal heard this worried Carr as she thought that Moorcroft was “trying to catch her out". She did not think she had given Moorcroft reason for concern.
The court ruled this query was asked “not in the caring sense” but to let the Claimant know the company was keeping an eye on her. The judge stated: “[Carr] thought that Moorcroft was trying to catch her out. It is likely that she felt intimidated, under the spotlight and concerned for her job.” The court ruled the specific incident harassment.
In a later incident, Carr – who managed a fleet of 280 vehicles – and Goodwin were late delivering a car to the company chairman’s house because Carr felt unwell due to low blood sugar. She was warned by Goodwin that if she told the chairman’s PA this was the reason, she would be “sacked on the spot”. When the PA came to ask why they had not left yet, Goodwin gave another excuse. Goodwin denied the incident had happened but this was rejected.
Throughout her time at the company, Carr’s competence was flagged several times. Following an incident on 14 September, which involved allegations that a car was not cleaned in time, Carr was invited to a meeting with Richard Kuyper, executive associate at the company. The tribunal heard Carr did not know the reason for the meeting.
Carr was told in the meeting her employment was not going to work out given that she had been spoken to by Goodwin several times and the company had seen no improvement. Kuyper did not refer to specific allegations until Carr asked for further details, and the tribunal heard he appeared reluctant to go into detail of what had happened or what was wrong with Carr’s performance.
In the meeting Carr was told her contract of employment would be terminated with immediate effect.
The court conceded Carr’s performance “had not been perfect”, but ruled the allegations surrounding poor organisation were not substantial enough to warrant dismissal.
The judge ruled: “It is our judgment that the main reason for the Claimant’s dismissal was her disability. It is also this tribunal’s judgment that a person with a different disability, with the Claimant’s level of competence, (making the same level of mistakes that she did) would not have been dismissed. The Respondent would have monitored her performance, given her feedback and opportunities to improve and ultimately confirmed her appointment.”
A spokesperson for Weston Homes said the company was "extremely disappointed" in the tribunal's judgment, and "saddened that the matter reached a legal situation", adding that the firm "totally rejects the allegations made by Mrs Carr and has contested them vigorously".
They continued: "It is Weston Homes' position that Mrs Carr was simply not capable of carrying out the job she was employed to do, as recorded in her appraisals", and added that the company is committed to providing a working environment where "everyone feels valued and respected".
Croner associate director Paul Holcroft said the case served as a "stark reminder” that threats to dismiss an employee because of their disability are clearly an act of direct discrimination and harassment, especially as there is a clear link to their protected characteristic and another non-disabled employee will not be subjected to these threats.
“Any disclosure of a disability, whether in an interview, in a medical questionnaire or at a later stage, needs to be treated appropriately by HR and the employee’s line manager,” he said.
“It is good practice to meet with the employee to discuss their disability, how this may affect them in the workplace and whether any reasonable adjustments are needed. Questions asked to the employee need to be sensitively phrased and avoid placing the employee under scrutiny or making them feel that they are being intrusively interrogated.”
Carr could not be reached for comment.