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Employee discriminated against because of wife’s disability

In Bainbridge v Atlas Ward Structures Ltd an employment tribunal held that an employee had been discriminated against by association when his fixed-term contract was not renewed because he had, on occasion, had to take leave at short notice because of his wife’s disability.

Bainbridge was one of 12 temporary welders employed on fixed-term contracts. His contract had been renewed on two previous occasions as he was a good worker. Bainbridge’s wife is disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act. His contract was not renewed when the employer decided it had one welder too many, but he was given no reason at the time. Bainbridge suggested that the reason was the amount of time that he had had to take off work because of his wife’s disability, particularly at short notice, which had “irritated” his manager, but he was assured this was not the case. His appeal against dismissal was rejected, but he was not provided with a reason as to why it had been him, rather than any of the 12 other temporary welders who had been selected for dismissal.

A tribunal upheld Bainbridge’s claim that he had been directly discriminated against because of his wife’s disability, i.e. associative discrimination. The critical issue was causation: why had his contract not been renewed? The evidence showed he was a good worker. His attendance record, other than for the periods of leave he had taken at short notice (all with the employer’s approval), was good. The employer’s HR representative, even though pressed repeatedly to explain the reason for selection, could not do so. So, in the absence of any other plausible reason, Bainbridge’s selection was because he had taken leave at short notice to care for his disabled wife, and therefore he had been directly discriminated against because of his wife’s disability, for which he was awarded £10,500 in compensation.

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