A bus driver with Asperger syndrome who was called names such as ‘Mr Bean’ and ‘illiterate cretin’ has been awarded almost £30,000 for disability discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
Mr Holland, who received an Asperger syndrome diagnosis in 2002, suffered “clear abuse” from colleagues who routinely humiliated him on a WhatsApp group. This, an employment tribunal found, created a “hostile, humiliating and offensive” environment for him to work in.
Asperger syndrome is a form of autism and constitutes a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
Holland, who worked for York-based A & A Coach Travel since 2016 was referred to by colleagues as “special needs”, “imbecile” and “waste of space”.
In response to a message announcing a group training session on helping disabled passengers, one colleague said “we experience it every day working with [the claimant]”.
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Holland said he would cry when alone and dreaded going to work each day. He did not complain about the messages and carried on as usual, hoping the behaviour would stop.
In November 2020 he found that his car had been damaged in the company’s car park. He was pressured not to submit an insurance claim, with the company’s transport manager threatening to dismiss him if he did so.
However, Holland informed his insurer about the incident and the transport manager told him he was sacked. In fear, Holland attempted to withdraw the insurance claim, and the transport manager gave him a pen and paper in order for Holland to transcribe an account accepting blame and invalidate any insurance complaint.
Holland later reported the incident to the police and resigned from the company. He requested payment of outstanding wages, but the transport manager told him he had subtracted a sum from Holland’s wages for damage to the firm’s buses, which he claimed had been caused by Holland.
The claimant subsequently sought employment at other bus and coach operators, but A & A Coach Travel would email these firms with suggestions that Holland had caused damage to its buses or posed a danger to women. One company that had taken Holland on dismissed him after being contacted by A & A, and Holland opted to resign from another after A & A had contacted the employer.
The company also contacted the DVLA with concerns about Holland’s mental state and standard of driving, which led to the DVLA requiring Holland to undergo a full medical at his expense in order to keep his driving licence.
It also brought a civil claim against Holland for alleged damage to its vehicles, but this was discontinued by the company.
After leaving A & A Coach Travel, Holland underwent two months of counselling. He told the tribunal that his stammer had returned, he was unable to sleep, and cried frequently.
The tribunal found the company could not provide a non-discriminatory explanation for its treatment of the claimant. The letter to the DVLA and the claimant’s new employers were also seen as harassment related to disability.
The company was ordered to pay £576 in unpaid wages, as well as £25,000 in compensation and £4,069.23 in interest.
The employment tribunal’s judgment says: “The conduct found is of unwanted conduct relating to disability – of clear abuse and belittling of the claimant related to his impairment of Asperger’s syndrome. The tribunal concludes that such treatment of the claimant created a hostile, humiliating and offensive environment for him in the workplace, whatever the actual purpose was of the comments.”
According to the National Autistic Society, “many people who fit the profile for Asperger syndrome are now being diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder instead. Each person is different, and it is up to each individual how they choose to identify. Some people with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome may choose to keeping using the term, while others may prefer to refer to themselves as autistic or on the autistic spectrum”.
The term ‘Asperger syndrome’ is used throughout the employment tribunal’s judgment, hence the inclusion of its use here.