‘Disability Confident’ advocacy charity ‘discriminated against disabled employee’

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A disability charity that has signed up to the government’s Disability Confident scheme for employers has been forced to pay more than £3,000 to a disabled woman who claimed she was discriminated against and unfairly dismissed.

Tmara Senior (pictured) worked for Cloverleaf Advocacy in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, for more than three years, before she says she was forced out after her year-long research project ended.

After learning that she was facing redundancy, she applied for another position with the charity, only to be sent a print letter telling her when to attend an interview, even though she is blind.

It later sent her other print letters in connection with her application, she said, even after she complained that she could not read them.

She said that she was rejected for one position she applied for with the charity because she failed to describe in the interview how she would use visual forms of communication in that job.

And she said that her own personal assistant was able to shadow advocates working for the charity, when she was not given similar opportunities until after she had left her job.

Senior has also told how the charity refused to publish her research report, which detailed the views of disabled people about the barriers they faced in accessing social and leisure opportunities in the Kirklees area.

Cloverleaf also prevented the report being shared with the local council.

She said: “I never got to present it to anyone because they decided nothing was going to be done with it.”

She believes the charity failed to publish it because she had refused to remove criticisms made by disabled people she had spoken to about local organisations that Cloverleaf worked with.

She said: “I didn’t alter what was said because I wanted it to be accurate and reflect the views of disabled people.

“How can you advocate on behalf of disabled people and not want their views to be taken into account?

“Why wouldn’t you want to publish a report to the council saying these are the reasons disabled people are not happy? That’s not advocacy.”

After Senior took legal action against Cloverleaf, the charity tried to convince her to sign a confidentiality agreement as part of its settlement of her claim, but she refused to do so because she wanted to speak out about the way she had been treated.

Although Cloverleaf did not admit liability for Senior’s claims of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination, it has agreed to pay her £3,250 to settle her claim, as well as paying for her to take an advocacy course.

She said she believed she was discriminated against, and blames the “culture” of the charity.

She said: “My work had always been very good but in the end it is almost as if what I did was not really valued very highly.

“It really does hurt because I worked there for quite a while. I loved my job and I never wanted to leave.

“I feel like I was just pushed out.”

She also said the charity failed to deal with two members of staff who had confronted her in the office, shortly before she was made redundant, leaving her too frightened to return to work and “feeling extremely anxious for some weeks afterwards”.

Suzi Henderson, Cloverleaf’s chief executive, said the charity did not want to respond to the individual allegations because it would not be “fair” to Senior to do so due to “confidentiality” reasons, although she said they “very strongly feel that the allegations she has made are untrue”.

She said that all of the issues raised by Senior have been “reflected on by the organisation as part of the process of reaching the settlement” and that “all the actions we have taken were fair and lawful and appropriate”.

But she admitted that “in terms of our reflections, we have updated all of our application forms now to accommodate additional communication needs, alternative communication needs”.

She declined to discuss any more of the allegations, but she said in a statement: “Since 1995 our core values have driven us to be passionate about equality.

“We firmly believe that every individual should be an equal member of society: everyone has the right to plan their own life, to be listened to, taken seriously and to be respected.

“We constantly review all our activities to help ensure that we are doing everything possible to support all our 160-plus staff while providing the best possible service for thousands of individuals.

“Regarding the specific issues, we remain confident that our actions have been right. 

“We do not tolerate any incorrect behaviour and take immediate action wherever appropriate.

“The settlement made was a commercial settlement by our insurers and does not indicate any liability.”

The charity, which says it offers “high quality advocacy services to people with mental health needs, learning disabilities, older people, people with physical and sensory impairment, and carers”, is a member of the government’s Disability Confident scheme that aims to promote the employment of disabled people.

Cloverleaf secured its status as a “Disability Confident Employer” – the middle of the government scheme’s three levels – through self-assessing its own policies and procedures.

As a Disability Confident Employer, it is supposed to “make a commitment to employ and retain disabled people”, “make sure all documentation is available in different formats”, “make sure people involved in the recruitment process are Disability Confident and know how to support disabled applicants”, and provide “a fully inclusive and accessible recruitment process”.

Senior said that Cloverleaf’s claim to be a Disability Confident Employer was “just laughable”.

She said: “If they can do what they have done to me, why wouldn’t they do it to anybody else who was disabled?

“They should not be a member of that scheme when you consider what they have done to me and the way I have been treated.”

She added: “I really believe in disabled people being heard and the voices of disabled people being heard but I don’t believe they believe in that.”

Disability News Service reported last November how analysis by disabled campaigner David Gillon suggested that Disability Confident was “trivially easy to abuse” and allowed organisations to describe themselves as “Disability Confident” even if they failed to comply with anti-discrimination laws.

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