Fife Centre for Equalities (FCE) helped a local disabled woman to win her discrimination case after she was dismissed by her employer.
Zara Sutherland (25), a Fife resident, was awarded £18k by the Employment Tribunal for her claim of Discrimination Arising from Disability.
Zara started working for Beach Beauty (Kirkcaldy) Ltd as a beauty therapist / nail technician in March 2019. Zara began her career in the beauty sector when she was 16. She was happy in her job and got on well with her colleagues and customers.
In late April, Zara was physically assaulted. She was hospitalised with severe injuries that ultimately led to her losing her left eye. Zara underwent a series of operations as a result of the assault. Initially, Zara felt her employer was concerned and sympathetic about what happened to her.
The relationship between Zara and her employer changed after she submitted her Fit Note (formerly known as sick note) in early May. Her GP stated that Zara was not fit to return to work until early June.
The day after the Fit Note was submitted, Zara received a phone call from her employer advising her that they had to “let her go”. Zara described to the Tribunal that this was the “worst day” of her life.
Zara’s Mother told the Tribunal that Zara was devastated and inconsolable. Later that day, Zara’s Mother took Zara to the nearby Citizen Advice Rights Fife’s (CARF) office. CARF advised Zara to request a formal explanation for her dismissal. Zara and her Mother then sought assistance from FCE after they received a written response from the employer.
At the Tribunal’s hearing, the employer argued that Zara had resigned, and that they had not dismissed her. The evidence showed that Beach Beauty (Kirkcaldy) Ltd, on two occasions, stated in writing that Zara was dismissed because of poor performance. The Tribunal ruled that they preferred the evidence of the Claimant and found that she was dismissed by the Respondent because Beach Beauty (Kirkcaldy) Ltd could not give a satisfactory reason why they did not raise the issue of resignation in previous correspondence with Zara.
The Tribunal also ruled that the performance issues “have been exaggerated for the purpose of defending the claim”. The Tribunal stated “there was no evidence that the alleged complaints were ever advanced as formal complaints by customers to the extent that an employer would take formal action against an employee. The Tribunal considered that these were the sort of issues which a business such as this would face where customers were dissatisfied and they were only categorised as ‘complaints’ as part of the Respondent’s defence to the claim”.
The Tribunal concluded that Zara’s dismissal “was triggered by the submission of her Fit Note”. Hence, Zara was treated unfavourably for something arising in consequence of her disability.
It is important to note that the employer was further penalised because of their failure to follow the ACAS Code of Practice prior to dismissing Zara.
Nina Munday, Manager of Fife Centre for Equalities says:
“We commend the courage and strength of Zara for fighting against injustice.
This case highlights that the hefty penalty could have been avoided if the employer had sought advice on how to support their staff and followed the code of practice issued by EHRC and ACAS. It could have been a completely different story if the employer had shown more compassion towards Zara and help her to remain in employment.
Employers should be aware that disabled employees are protected from discrimination arising from their disability – this is an area of the Equality Act 2010 that may not be well understood.
If you are an employer who is not sure how to support disabled staff members, please contact FCE or similar organisations for advice.”
Zara Sutherland, Claimant, says:
“The stress and anxiety I suffered during this traumatic experience was exacerbated by losing my job at the Beach Beauty salon and hearing of the detrimental remarks Mrs Cooper had made about me.
Proceeding with an employment tribunal was the last thing I wanted to deal with, however I am very grateful to Nina Munday, Manager of FCE, for giving me the support and strength to right the wrong that was bestowed on me. She made the process as bearable as she possibly could for me and gave me encouragement when I lacked strength to see it through!
I was fortunate that my Aunt was aware of the work of Fife Centre for Equalities and encouraged me to ask for their help. I would urge anyone that has been mistreated to seek help.
I am thankful for the support my family has given me.
Currently I am working part-time for a new employer as well as running my own business. Living with a new disability will have its challenges but I learn that, with the right support, I can continue to do my job well.”