EAT Decision in Linton v The Athelstan Trust Highlights Importance of Properly Assessing Disability Claims and Deposit Orders

Citation: [2024] EAT 14
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of James Linton v The Athelstan Trust brought before the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in 2024 engages with critical points of law concerning the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA) and the procedural mechanism of deposit orders under the Employment Tribunal (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2013. The judgment, presided over by The Honourable Mrs Justice Eady DBE, President, delves into the complex issues surrounding the classification of a past disability and the assessment of a claimant’s likelihood of establishing the facts essential to their claim or defence.

Key Facts

The appellant, James Linton, was employed by The Athelstan Trust and was subsequently dismissed. He claimed discrimination arising from disability under section 15 EqA related to his PTSD, which he alleged was triggered or exacerbated by wearing face masks during the pandemic. Additionally, Linton claimed automatic unfair dismissal for making public interest disclosures under section 103A Employment Rights Act 1996.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) initially found that Linton was not disabled at the material time as defined by the EqA and struck out his disability discrimination claims. The ET also imposed a deposit order regarding his unfair dismissal claim, questioning its reasonable prospect of success. These decisions were appealed to the EAT.

Disability Under Equality Act 2010

The EqA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The EAT’s analysis emphasized the requirement for a systematic approach based on statutory language, as established in J v DLA Piper UK LLP and Boyle v SCA Packaging Ltd.

The EAT criticized the ET’s approach to Dr. Nabavi’s medical report, which supported Linton’s claim of disability. The ET erroneously discounted the report because it contained inaccuracies and the claimant’s symptoms intensified post-dismissal, failing to properly engage with the issue of whether the PTSD was likely to recur — a key consideration in assessing long-term disability.

Deposit Orders

Under Rule 39 of the ET Rules, the ET can require a party to pay a deposit as a condition for continuing a specific allegation or argument deemed to have little reasonable prospect of success. The EAT in Hemdan v Ishmail reiterated the necessity of a valid basis for issuing such orders, emphasizing the importance of reasons to safeguard against arbitrary decision-making. Furthermore, the principles set in the case Jansen van Rensberg dictate that the ET must have a sound basis for doubting a party’s ability to establish essential facts while not necessarily accepting those facts at face value.

Outcomes

The EAT allowed the appeals on the grounds that the ET failed to engage correctly with the legal questions of disability discrimination and the proper basis for issuing the deposit order. The EAT concluded that the ET did not properly weigh the expert medical evidence in relation to Linton’s disability and did not provide clear reasons for challenging Linton’s likelihood to establish facts regarding his unfair dismissal claim.

Conclusion

The EAT’s decision in James Linton v The Athelstan Trust underscores the need for precision in interpreting individuals’ disabilities under EqA and cautions against dismissing expert evidence without due consideration. It also reaffirms that ETs must provide well-founded reasons for questioning the prospects of success in a claim when imposing deposit orders. This case is a vital reference for legal professionals navigating the complexities of disability discrimination and the appropriate procedural application of deposit orders.

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