Disability discrimination:  Association with a disabled person / carer

Truman v Bibby Distribution Ltd ET/2404176/2014

The sudden dismissal of an employee with caring responsibilities who is performing satisfactorily will raise suspicions of associative disability discrimination.


Mr Truman commenced employment on 14 October 2013. His hours were 8am to 4pm, although he often worked longer hours and had to travel the country.

Mr Truman, whose appraisals were good, was appointed operations manager on 1 June 2014. In September 2014, Mr Truman indicated to a colleague that he would soon have increased caring responsibilities for his daughter, who has cystic fibrosis.

In a meeting on 13 October 2014, Mr Truman was told, without forewarning, that his employment was being ended and he would be paid in lieu of notice. He was told that the reason was that “his heart wasn’t in the business”, he was not adding value, and the customer was dissatisfied with him (even though Mr Truman had always had good feedback and appraisals in this area.)

Mr Truman told the HR department before he left that he felt that he was being dismissed because he would have to look after a sick dependant. He did not appeal against his dismissal because he felt that the matter had been predetermined.

Mr Truman brought a claim for associative disability discrimination in the employment tribunal. The tribunal upheld his claim.

The tribunal noted that, at some point, there was a “sea change” in the employer’s attitude to Mr Truman. His appraisals were good and there were no complaints from the customer. The tribunal shifted the burden of proof to the employer to provide an explanation for Mr Truman’s dismissal.

The employment tribunal did not get a satisfactory explanation from the employer for its change in attitude. The tribunal heard from the employer that a performance improvement process is not always followed in the “stark commercial world” and that, because he did not have the two years’ service required for an unfair dismissal claim, it felt that it could dismiss him without a full capability procedure.

However, the employment tribunal said that it would still have expected to see compelling documentary evidence that Mr Truman’s performance had dipped and could not be put right.

This left the tribunal to conclude that the reason for the sudden change in attitude was that Mr Truman’s employer had become aware that he might have to spend more of his time looking after his disabled daughter.  The tribunal was suspicious of the timing of the dismissal

The tribunal held that Mr Truman was directly discriminated against because of his daughter’s disability.

A remedy hearing was arranged to decide on compensation.

Source:  Xpert HR