New ruling on disability discrimination

July 28, 2009
Lizzie Syddall

A landmark ruling has extended powers to protect disabled workers.

The House of Lords has found that people with a physical or mental condition which varies in severity over time should still be termed disabled if there is a good chance the condition would become substantial again in the future.

By extending the scope of the term “disability”, more people will be entitled to legal protection.

The case was brought by Elizabeth Boyle, who claimed she had been discriminated against by her former employer, SCA Packaging. She had developed vocal nodules which she managed with a strict regime including speech therapy and only speaking very quietly.

Boyle took legal action nine years ago after some partitions near her desk were removed against her wishes and the advice of her surgeon.

The result was she had to raise her voice which potentially risked causing her condition to return. The firm argued Boyle was not disabled as her condition was no longer having an adverse effect on her life.

The case now returns to the Northern Ireland Employment Tribunal to consider if Boyle has been the victim of unlawful discrimination based on her disability.

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