Objective justification and disability
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held in Gray v University of Portsmouth that it is not sufficient for a tribunal to say that a respondent's objective justification defence is "obvious".
This was in the context of the dismissal of an absent, disabled employee.
The claimant is autistic and suffers from stress. He worked in the university's Information Service department. The university followed their 4-stage management process but ultimately, following a two-year long period of sickness absence related to his disability, the claimant was dismissed and his appeal against his dismissal was rejected. He brought a claim for discrimination arising from disability. He claimed that the university had treated him unfavourably by initiating a formal meeting under their absence process, stopping his sick pay, dismissing him and rejecting his appeal against the dismissal.
The tribunal held that the claimant's dismissal was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, the aim being the efficient running of the department. However, the EAT held that the tribunal is required to carry out a critical evaluation of the respondent's justification and must demonstrate in its reasons that it has done so. The tribunal had stated that it was "obvious" that continuing to hold the claimant's job open was significantly disruptive to the university but failed to explain why it reached that finding. There were no findings about how the claimant's job was being covered, whether the university incurred additional cost, or whether his absence was actually causing any disruption. The case was remitted back to the same tribunal for reconsideration.
Take note: The decision in Gray shows the importance not only of the tribunal's analysis of an objective justification defence, but also by extension the importance of an employer establishing a sound defence which has been properly reasoned and followed through.