Disability Ruling

August 5, 2009

A Northern Ireland ruling in a case brought by Mrs Elizabeth Boyle who claimed she had been discriminated against by her former employer, SCA Packaging. Mrs Boyle developed vocal nodules, with help from speech therapy and by speaking very quietly and occasionally, she was able to control the condition. SCA Packaging had developed plans 9 years previously to remove partitions from around the desk, Mrs Boyle and her medical advisers had argued against the removal of the partitions had these had reduced the occasions when she would have to talk with others, they formed part of her management of the condition.

Lord Hope said…..

“The case is also important for people who, like Mrs Boyle, are in need of the protection of para 6(1) of Schedule 1. They include those suffering from conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy whose disability is concealed from public view so long as it is controlled by medication. Their disability is insidious. The measures that are taken to treat or correct it, so long as they are effective, enable them to carry on normal day-to-day activities just like everyone else. But the disability is there nevertheless. It lives with them all the time, as does the awareness that the measures that are taken to treat or correct it may not be wholly effective. Doctors do what they can to prescribe appropriate medication, bearing in mind the likely risk of side effects as well as its effectiveness. But it does not always work, and the precautions that people have to take against that eventuality may in themselves be disabling in a way that is often misunderstood: refraining from driving or operating heavy machinery, for example. In Mrs Boyle’s case the management regime which enabled her to live with her voice dysfunction without having further therapy but which an employer might find inconvenient or even irritating was of that character.”

Any person with a condition that varies in its severity over time will still be termed disabled if it becomes substantial again in the future.

The Northern Ireland Employment Tribunal will now look at the case to see if Mrs Boyle has been subject to unlawful discrimination based on her disability.