Section 123 of the Equality Act lays down a three-month time limit for bringing a claim, unless the tribunal thinks it is “just and equitable” to extend the limit. In Abertawe Bro Morgannweg University Local Health Board v Morgan, the Court of Appeal held that there was no requirement in the legislation for tribunals to find a “good reason” for the delay before deciding it was “just and equitable” to extend the limit.
Ms Morgan, who started working for the board in January 2007, suffered from a depressive illness which resulted in her being off sick from July 2010 until December 2011 when she was dismissed.
On 14 March 2012 she brought claims of discrimination on the grounds of disability (failure to make reasonable adjustments), harassment and unfair dismissal. The Board accepted that, as a result of her illness, Ms Morgan was a disabled person within the Equality Act 2010.
Tribunal and EAT decisions
The tribunal held that Ms Morgan had been subjected to harassment by the Board’s HR advisor; that the Board had failed in its duty to make reasonable adjustments for her disability by redeploying her to another role; and that it was just and equitable to extend the time for bringing the claim after the end of the three-month limitation period under section 123.
The Board appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) (weekly LELR 486) which held that the claim based on a failure to make adjustments could not be sustained in relation to the period from August to December 2011 when the occupational health doctor had written a report stating that she was unfit for work in any capacity. It therefore remitted the claim to the tribunal. The tribunal again held that the Board had breached the duty to make reasonable adjustments and that time to bring a claim began to run in August 2011. It also decided that it was just and equitable to extend the time for bringing her claims.
After a second appeal to the EAT was dismissed, the Board appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Decision of Court of Appeal
With regard to the question of when time began to run, the Court of Appeal held that in a complaint about an omission to make reasonable adjustments, it starts at the end of the period in which the employer might reasonably have been expected to comply with the duty. That period should be assessed from the claimant’s point of view, having regard to what they knew or could reasonably have been expected to know at the relevant time.
In this case, it should have been clear to Ms Morgan by the beginning of August 2011 that the Board was not complying with its duty to make reasonable adjustments in terms of looking for alternative suitable roles for her. This, therefore, was the date when time began to run in terms of bringing her tribunal claims. In relation to the issue of whether it was “just and equitable” to extend time, the Court of Appeal noted that Parliament had given tribunals “the widest possible discretion”.
Nor was there any requirement in the legislation that tribunals had to find a “good reason” for the delay. That said, however, relevant factors to take into account would be the length of any delay; the reasons for it; and any prejudice that the employer might experience as a result. In this case, it was reasonable to take Ms Morgan’s ill health into account when deciding to extend time to bring her claims.
The Court therefore dismissed the Board’s appeal on both counts.