12 January 2018
In The Chief Constable of Norfolk v Coffey the EAT held that an employer’s belief that an employee’s hearing problem may become a disability in the future amounted to direct perceived disability discrimination.
Lisa Coffey, a police officer, brought a tribunal claim after a transfer to Norfolk Constabulary was rejected due to her hearing condition. The Chief Constable of Norfolk regarded Ms Coffey as a “non-disabled permanently restricted officer” and thought accepting her transfer would place increased pressure on their current officers.
The ET ruled that that Ms Coffey had suffered perceived direct discrimination. The Chief Constable had perceived her as having a condition that could not be accommodated by reasonable adjustments (or that the condition would require adjustments in the future). The EAT upheld this decision, finding that Ms Coffey was treated less favourably because of her employer’s perception that she was disabled.
This decision confirms that perceived disability discrimination claims are permissible, although such claims are not common as it can be difficult for Claimants to show that the Respondent perceived them as having the features required to meet the definition for disabilities under the Equality Act.