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Prison inspector loses disability case, but court criticises employer

A prison inspector has lost his claim of disability discrimination, but the case led to the Court of Appeal criticising the approach taken by his employer, the Ministry of Justice.

Dr Peter Dunn started working as a prison inspector in 2010. He began suffering from depression in 2012, which led to him taking time off work in the spring of 2014.

His illness persisted, and he applied for early ill-health retirement in November 2014.

His application led to a long, drawn out process lasting 13 months. Dr Dunn blamed the delay on unnecessary bureaucracy within the prison service. His line manager also expressed concerns about the lack of progress.

When his ill-health retirement assessment was eventually issued, it contained several errors, which took to months to correct. The final decision to allow his retirement wasn't made until December 2015.

Dr Dunn retired the following February and brought 16 complaints of disability discrimination and harassment.

The Employment Tribunal dismissed 10 of the complaints but allowed three. He was awarded £100,000 compensation. That decision was overturned by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

The case went all the way to the Court of Appeal, which also ruled against Dr Dunn. It held that although the MoJ's processes were slow and unwieldy, they were not so deficient that they amounted to discrimination.

However, Lord Justice Underhill, was critical of the MoJ. He said: "...it is no credit whatever to the MoJ that its ill-health retirement processes, which by definition are applied to people who are to a greater or lesser extent vulnerable, are so...arcane and unwieldy; and I would endorse the EAT's recommendation that they be reconsidered."

This is a case that was brought because of the inadequacies of the MoJ's processes for dealing with a straightforward request for ill-health retirement. Employers may wish to check their own policies for such matters to reduce the risk of claims that can be both costly and time-consuming.

For further advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or for employment law advice more generally, please contact JPP Law on 020 3468 3064 or email info@jpplaw.co.uk

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