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'Disabled' City lawyer wins right to pursue discrimination claim

21 June 2010

A City lawyer that claims DLA Piper revoked her job offer because she suffered from depression has won leave to have her case heard for a second time.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has quashed the original tribunal’s decision to throw the case out on the grounds that she was not ‘disabled’ and so could not fight a case under Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

The lawyer, referred to as J, successfully argued that the first tribunal erred in law in its conclusion.

She claims that even if she was not in fact disabled, DLA Piper could still have withdrawn the offer because they believed she was disabled, in which case the Discrimination Act could still apply.

J, a qualified barrister who has previously worked in a government department and a rival City law firm, has accused DLA Piper of mental discrimination after it claimed she could not take up the post offered because there was a ‘recruitment freeze’.

Following two successful interviews, J was verbally offered a job on condition that she completed a medical check.

During the check she confided in one of the firm’s HR workers about her past bouts of depression, which she says both flared up because of the jobs she was doing.

After being warned by the HR representative that the high-stress job was probably not suitable, J claims she then told the job offer had been removed because of the recruitment freeze.

The EAT’s decision has given her permission to relaunch her discrimination claim against DLA Piper.

The law firm, represented at the EAT by Daniel Tatton-Brown, as instructed by Morgan Lewis & Bockius, says it will defend its original position.

A spokesman for DLA Piper said: “The judgment of the appeal tribunal has asked a new tribunal to reconsider the complex issues raised by the appeal in the first instance. It was open to the appeal tribunal to reverse the original decision which it has declined to do.

“The point of appeal went into the technicalities of the definition of "disability" under the act. There was no consideration of the substantive merits of the case, which has yet to be heard and contested.

“We continue to maintain that the firm acted entirely appropriately in responding to a decline in market conditions and applying a ‘recruitment freeze’, which unfortunately caught the job application involving the claimant. We communicated that to the claimant prior to her acceptance of our offer of employment and prior to her deciding to resign from her, then current, position.

“We will continue to maintain both the technical and substantive elements of our defence.”

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Discrimination Tribunals & Courts Courts & Judiciary