Mother of child with disabilities wins disability discrimination case

A mother from Northern Ireland was awarded nearly £19,000 in compensation last month after an industrial tribunal found she had been unfairly dismissed under the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.  Maria McKeith, who was supported by the Equality Commission, worked as a part-time adviser at a Belfast advice centre from 2010 until her dismissal in March 2015. The tribunal heard that she had been sent home from work for two extended periods in the months prior to her dismissal despite not requesting any extended leave. The tribunal found that her dismissal was linked to her role as primary carer for her daughter who has disabilities, stating that her employer, the Ardoyne Association, "did not put forward any convincing or coherent explanation for its decision". It was also clear that in her managers' minds, "because the claimant had a disabled child, her position was not properly in the workplace. Her daughter was 'her priority.'” The tribunal ruled: "That is not the legal position. People who are disabled themselves, or who are the primary carer of a disabled person, have a right to work within the protection afforded by the 1995 Act." The Ardoyne Association attempted to appeal the ruling, but it was dismissed by the Court of Appeal Northern Ireland who stated that, "in the absence of an adequate explanation, a tribunal could conclude that the employer committed an unlawful act of associative disability discrimination". Maria McKeith said she was left in shock when she was made redundant."I did not ask for any special treatment and I did not welcome it. I enjoyed coming to work, meeting people and being able to advise and help them and I knew my daughter was being cared for while I was at work.” She added: "I'm very pleased by the decisions of the tribunal and of the Court of Appeal, and grateful for the help of the Equality Commission through this stressful process. But most of all, I hope that this will help make sure that other people in my position are not treated in this way." Talking to the BBC, Dr Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission said employers needed to be aware that the purpose of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is “to assist disabled people and their primary carers to obtain work and to integrate them in to the workplace.” "That is not a matter simply of money, but the dignity of, and the respect due to, the people concerned," he concluded.
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