Disabled man told he was ‘too slow’ to evacuate during work fire drill wins £30,000
A disabled IT manager has won a discrimination claim after his boss moaned he was too ‘slow’ in evacuating the office during a fire drill.
Andrew Lawton was left ‘humiliated’ when he reached the bottom of five flights of stairs and company owner Raj Singh complained he took too long.
The computer expert, who has a condition which causes debilitating leg pain and regularly uses crutches, was also quizzed by Mr Singh why he spent so much time in the toilet.
And when Mr Lawton asked to work from home when the lift wasn’t working, ‘authoritarian’ boss Mr Singh saw it as a ‘challenge to his authority’ and sought to remove him.
At an employment tribunal last year, Mr Lawton successfully sued surveillance tech firm Crystal Ball Ltd for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.
Now, Mr Lawton has been awarded compensation of £30,011.
The employment tribunal heard that Mr Lawton was appointed to Manchester-based Crystal Ball Ltd in 2015.
After four years he started to suffer with constant pain in his left knee.
The Liverpool hearing was told Mr Lawton was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome – a condition where a person experiences persistent, severe and debilitating pain.
A few months afterwards, he arrived at work to find the lift was not working and he had to climb the stairs to the company’s office on the fifth floor.
This caused him considerable pain, with his walking difficulties being obvious to colleagues as he regularly had a crutch, and when the lift was out of order again he asked managing director Mr Singh if he could work from home.
He requested to work from home if the lift was out of order, after his weekly physio sessions, and if his condition flared up so much that he struggled to carry out daily tasks.
In the letter, he said his condition was expected to last for at least a year, and he set out his rights as a disabled person.
The tribunal heard that when occupational health advisers said Mr Lawton’s adjustments needed to be made, Mr Singh’s attitude towards him changed and he started ignoring him in the office.
A tribunal report said: “Mr Singh does not appear to react well to challenges.
“Mr Lawton writing to Mr Singh advising him of his rights as a person with a disability, was seen by Mr Singh as a challenge to his authority and to run his business as he wished.”
The tribunal found: “The conduct of Mr Singh in questioning Mr Lawton about the reason he spent an extended time in the toilet was unwanted conduct which we consider had the purpose and the effect of violating his dignity and was humiliating.”
Mr Singh sent his IT manager emails complaining about him working from home in an approach that was “unsympathetic and intimidatory”, the tribunal heard.
He sent one email in which he criticised Mr Lawton for working 40 per cent of his working hours from home in one month.
Mr Lawton then faced disciplinary investigations after there was a security breach on the company’s server and he placed some documents in his own personnel file.
Mr Lawton said he was only taken through disciplinary proceedings since being disabled and he felt the company was trying to find a legal way to dismiss him or push him to resign.
Mr Lawton did resign in December 2019, saying he considered the relationship between him and his employer had irrevocably broken down.
Employment Judge Ann Benson said: “We have found that Mr Singh had a discriminatory reason for instigating disciplinary procedures against Mr Lawton.
“We consider that Mr Singh had an agenda to remove Mr Lawton from the business. This was a progressive situation which intensified over time as Mr Singh became more frustrated.
“Although Mr Singh had reasons to carry out his investigation into the security breach and Mr Lawton’s accessing his personnel file, Mr Singh’s underlying objective was removing him from the business such that he could regain control over where his IT Manager worked.”