Thursday, 5 September 2013

‘One of the worst cases of discrimination I’ve seen’

‘One of the worst cases of discrimination I’ve seen’
Environment secretary Owen Paterson has been asked by one of the region’s MPs to intervene in a lengthy and costly dispute between one of his constituents and her former employer, the Environment Agency.
Andrew Miller, MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, accuses the government agency of “a considerable waste of public money” in the case of Carol Donnelly. He wants it to abandon its appeal against an employment tribunal decision last year that she was unfairly dismissed when her contract was ended after she became disabled.
As a former trade union official Miller has attended a significant number of employment tribunals. In a letter to Paterson, he states: “This case is unfortunately one of the worst cases of disability discrimination I have seen for some time.” He expresses astonishment that during the tribunal nine managers from the Environment Agency (EA) were present for five of the six days.
Legal costs
Miller estimates Donnelly’s dismissal has cost the taxpayer close to half a million pounds in legal costs. He believes the EA’s appeal, which is due to start on 18 October, is “extremely unlikely” to reverse the earlier findings. He has asked Paterson to “bring the matter to the attention of the relevant official with a strong suggestion that public money should not be wasted in further pursuing this matter”.
Out of court negotiations or a tribunal remedy hearing should be employed to finally settle the matter, he suggests.
After working for the NHS, Donnelly moved to the EA in 1992 to work as a regulatory specialist in hazardous and clinical waste. She enjoyed the job and hoped to continue her work until she retired.
When she was redeployed in 2007 and asked to hot desk – share a workstation with other staff – she requested to be moved to a static working environment because of spondylitis in her spine. Her request took a number of months to be fulfilled.
Donnelly became further disabled due to car accident injuries to her leg that caused osteoarthritis. Donnelly claims this left her unable to negotiate uneven or muddy ground and “after not being able to attend two water pollution incidents
I was disciplined and then suspended for being unable to perform my job”.
She was made to compete for other jobs at the EA but despite her experience could not secure another post. A formal capability process had begun before Donnelly went off work ill with stress in January 2010. She was dismissed on 22 December 2010.
When Donnelly took her case to an employment tribunal she was successful, with the panel unanimously deciding she had been harassed, unfairly discriminated against because of her disability and unfairly dismissed. The EA lodged an appeal against the decision on the final day allowed.
As she can no longer afford to pay for qualified legal representation, Donnelly has asked for an adjournment for time to prepare her case. She has yet to receive all the grounds of appeal papers from the EA. She accuses her former employers of “hoping to wear me down, knowing I am not in great health”.
A spokesperson for the EA said that because of ongoing legal proceedings they could
not comment on the “details of this specific case but we take the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff seriously”.
The spokesperson said they would only respond to questions about the possible £500,000 expenditure on the case so far if The Big Issue in the North put in a Freedom of Information Act request.

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