Police officer loses ‘voice’ disability discrimination claim

A former police officer who claimed she was bullied by force bosses after being diagnosed with a voice condition has lost her claim for disability discrimination.

Catherine Gilbert tried to sue Kent Police, claiming they failed to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate her condition of spasmodic dysphonia, which makes it difficult for sufferers to speak.

Gilbert was diagnosed in April 2005 and signed off work by her GP the following November after she also started suffering from anxiety and depression brought on, she claimed, by her treatment by the force.

Gilbert, whose condition makes her voice shake and sometimes stutter over words, said she applied to train to become a dog handler but was “bullied out”.

But the tribunal panel at Ashford unanimously ruled that she was “not disabled for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act” and dismissed her claim.

Rebecca Davidson, senior associate in the employment team at Fox Williams law firm, said the tribunal decision was a reminder of the difficulties that some claimants have in clearing the first hurdle in a disability discrimination case: that they are suffering from a disability within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

“To qualify as a ‘disability’ under the DDA a person needs to be suffering from a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities,” she said.

“Whilst a condition which impacts on a person’s speech can be a ‘normal day to day activity’, the hurdle of establishing a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ adverse effect can be difficult in some cases. Clear medical evidence is often needed to establish that a person has a disability.”

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