Deaf worker wins disability discrimination fight20 April 2007
Thompsons Solicitors and UNISON have achieved a significant settlement for a council worker who was discriminated against on the grounds of her disability.
Jenny Blackburn, an administrative assistant at Kirklees Council for 16 years despite being deaf in one ear, having distorted hearing in the other and suffering severe tinnitus in both, was forced to take ill health retirement after being made to work in a noisy and cluttered open plan office.
She had previously managed well at work in a quiet, uncluttered office, even though her condition – Otosclerosis – meant she had to rely on eyesight alone to keep her balance.
But when her team was relocated in 2004 to the open plan area, and her request to stay in her own office was refused, she attempted unsuccessfully to cope. Her employers provided only a plastic screen in an attempt to shield her from the noise.
Increasingly depressed and stressed, and with her condition being made worse, she went on sick leave in December 2005 and did not return to work.
Kirklees admitted discrimination on the grounds of disability.
Jenny Blackburn said: "The tools I needed to do my job – a quiet environment with access to equipment – were taken away with no effective communication or consultation. An agreement to work in a quiet area was broken without any discussion. Professional advice provided for the council was ignored, despite its many policies including equal opportunities and dignity at work.
"I feel that I have been failed at every level. I had no thought of retiring. I enjoyed my job and was hardworking and conscientious. I hope that by taking this difficult action, with the support of UNISON and Thompsons, my family, friends and Calderdale's Social Worker for the Deaf, will help to prevent another deaf person with tinnitus suffering in the same way."
Andrew James, Mrs Blackburn’s solicitor at Thompsons in Sheffield said: "Under the disability discrimination act employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled workers to continue working. This might be adjusting their working environment, providing special equipment and facilities, or even moving them to an equivalent alternative post in which they could continue to work. Kirklees did none of these things. The plastic screen was wholly inadequate. By failing to consult with Jenny on the move to the open plan area, and then by refusing her request not to be moved, the council drove a coach and horses through the law."
This story has been reported in the Huddersfield Examiner