Disability discrimination due to neurodiverse conditions

disability discrimination due to neurodiverse conditionsIn the recent case of Miss L Crawford v The Chief Constable of Cumbria Constabulary an Employment Tribunal ruled that an autistic Police Officer who was rejected from firearms training, was found to have been treated unfavourably and to have suffered discrimination.

Miss Crawford, a Police Officer with Cumbria Police, suffered direct disability discrimination, indirect disability discrimination, and was treated unfavourably because of her disability. She had applied for an initial firearms course in 2019. Her application was declined by the Deputy Chief Constable on the basis of a personal profile statement that Miss Crawford had provided when she joined the force in 2016 which confirmed that she was dyslexic and autistic.

When Miss Crawford originally provided the statement in 2016 relating to her disability, she was referred to Occupational Health where it was found that her dyslexia and autism did not appear to have any significant adverse effects on her ability to carry out her role as a Police Officer. Accordingly, she was declared fit to continue in her duties.

When Miss Crawford applied to become an authorised Firearms Officer, she passed a fitness test, a suitability test, and an advanced driving assessment. However, it was decided that more information was needed about her neurodiverse conditions.

Despite several more experienced colleagues recommending that she progress onto the firearms course, and her GP recommending her for this, her application was rejected by the Deputy Chief Constable.

The Deputy Chief Constable had reached his decision without even seeing Miss Crawford’s application. Instead, he relied on the personal profile statement provided at the outset of Miss Crawford’s employment. He decided that, as Miss Crawford had referred to difficulties in social settings, this would affect social situations at work and therefore she was unsuitable for the course.

Miss Crawford attempted to submit a grievance against this decision, but it was decided that “there was no power” to reconsider the decision of the Deputy Chief Constable.

The Tribunal Judge found that none of Miss Crawford’s superiors had expressed any concerns to the Deputy Chief Constable about Miss Crawford’s suitability to be an authorised Fire Officer, yet the Deputy Chief Constable had chosen instead to rely extensively on a document which was clearly out of date and no longer directly relevant.

The Deputy Chief Constable informed the Tribunal that he did not know that Miss Crawford was disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010, however the Tribunal found that he ought to have been aware of this.

The Tribunal found that a hypothetical comparator with the same qualities as Miss Crawford but no diagnosis of autism or dyslexia would not have been “flagged” up.

It also found that Miss Crawford’s own GP had recommended her for the authorised Firearms Officer course and no issues had come back from any other source suggesting that she was unsuitable. Her First and Second Commanders and her Inspector had all approved her form. There were no issues in the Police Standards arena and her confidential screening had come back clear. The only thing that flagged Miss Crawford to the Deputy Chief Constable was her diagnosis of autism and dyslexia in conjunction with the personal profile document which had been erroneously retained on her occupational health file. A hypothetical comparator without the diagnosis of the disability of autism or dyslexia would not have been picked up.

This case is a reminder to employers that at all stages of employment, including during an application process, employees must be treated equally and that a decision regarding an employee should not be made based on assumptions about the potential impact of their disability.

In this case it was clear that Miss Crawford had performed her role as a Police Officer successfully and there was no reason to assume she could not successfully undertake the authorised Firearms Officer course. Feel free to contact our solicitors for legal advice if you have also been treated unfavourably at your workplace because you suffer from a disability.

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