Lords ruling means protection for more people with fluctuating conditions


A “landmark” House of Lords ruling means that more disabled people with fluctuating conditions will be protected by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
A panel of Law Lords ruled that someone with a condition that did not currently have a substantial effect on them but varied in severity should still be viewed as disabled if they were likely to become substantially affected again in the future.
One of the panel, Lord Hope, said that for those with conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy, “the disability is there” even if medication allows it to be “concealed from public view”.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had “intervened” in the case to argue that people with fluctuating conditions should be entitled to the same legal protection as those with more stable conditions.
The woman who brought the case, Elizabeth Boyle, had worked for SCA Packaging in Northern Ireland for 32 years.
Boyle had developed vocal nodules, which she helped to manage by speaking quietly.
But her employer decided to remove partitions near her desk, even though it would mean she would have to speak more loudly and risk her condition returning.
In October 2001, she began proceedings under the DDA, alleging she was being discriminated against on the basis of her impairment. Seven months later, she was made redundant.
The company argued Boyle was not disabled as her condition no longer had an adverse effect on her life.
After the hearing, Susie Uppal, the EHRC’s director of legal enforcement, said it was important that people with long-term conditions who can manage their symptoms or whose condition is in remission are still recognised as being disabled under the law, “so they get the protection they need to prevent their conditions recurring and their quality of life suffering as a result”.
The case will return to the Northern Ireland Employment Tribunal, which will consider if Boyle was subjected to unlawful discrimination based on her impairment.
2 July 2009

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