Former PWC partner fails in disability discrimination claim

by Redmans Solicitors on May 16, 2013

  • SumoMe

A former PriceWaterhouseCoopers partner has failed in his appeal against an industrial tribunal’s decision that he was not subject to disability discrimination.

Mr Colin Tenner, who had joined PWC in 1987, had suffered for years from workplace stress, anxiety and depression. In late 2007 he was signed off work and remained on sick leave for two and a half years before his partnership at the firm was terminated in February 2010. After taking employment law advice he subsequently instructed employment law solicitors and submitted a claim to the Northern Ireland industrial tribunal for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.

The Industrial Tribunal originally heard Mr Tenner’s claim for victimisation, direct disability discrimination and failure to make reasonable adjustments last year. It heard evidence that Mr Tenner had gone off sick from work in 2007 and had remained on sick leave until 2010 with stress and depression. The Tribunal was presented with further evidence that the firm had a “macho culture” and that he had received an email at the firm stating that “real partners don’t get sick”. However, PWC successfully argued that Mr Tenner had not been discriminated against on the basis of his disability, using evidence relating to the portfolio that Mr Tenner previously managed to substantiate their claim that he was dismissed from his employment because of the under-performance of this portfolio (rather than it being because of his disability). The portfolio in question was Mr Tenner’s supervision of a public-private partnership between Belfast Education and the Library Board. Mr Tenner had originally forecast revenues of £3.2 million from this partnership for 2009 but because of the economic slowdown revenue was actually likely to be less than £1 million. PWC also advanced evidence that there was no history of discrimination at PWC or that any of the PWC witnesses showed any prejudice towards disabled persons. The Tribunal also accepted that between September 2007 and September 2008 PWC had shown an active desire to return Mr Tenner to his duties at the firm.

Mr Tenner appealed the dismissal of his discrimination claims and the matter went before the Court of Appeal last month. The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Tenners’ grounds of appeal, stating that the Tribunal had not made an error of law in dismissing his discrimination claims and they were entitled as a matter of fact and law to reach the conclusions that they did. It is not known whether Mr Tenner will submit another appeal after the dismissal of the appeal by the Court of Appeal.

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor, commented on the case that “whether discrimination has taken place is a very fact-specific issue and the success or failure of a claim in the Tribunal will often depend upon the reliability and testimony of witnesses at a hearing. In this case, the Tribunal clearly accepted the evidence of PWC’s witnesses that they hadn’t consciously or unconsciously discriminated against Mr Tenner. Discrimination claims can be extremely complex – it’s advisable that a Claimant obtain expert advice on their claim to ensure that they’re doing justice to their legal issue”.

Redmans are compromise agreement solicitors based in London.

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