Block on mental health

Employers will no longer be able to rule out job candidates with a history
of mental health problems, following a case under the DDA.

Construction giant John Laing admitted it discriminated against Andrew
Watkiss. It withdrew an offer of employment on learning of his diagnosis for
schizophrenia in a medical examination. It has agreed to pay damages, the level
of which was not disclosed. The company backed down two days prior to the
tribunal hearing.

The case is the first successful mental health claim under the Act to deal
with a job application. Previous litigants have complained of unfair dismissal.

Paul Daniels, solicitor at Russell Jones & Walker, who acted for
Watkiss, said although the matter was settled out of court, it is likely to
prove a landmark case.

"Employers who make blanket assumptions about the abilities of people
with mental health difficulties risk substantial claims for disability
discrimination," he said.

In January 1999, John Laing offered Watkiss the post of company secretary,
subject to a routine medical examination. At the examination Watkiss disclosed
he had been diagnosed schizophrenic since 1980, but he had experienced no
difficulties since 1991, and the condition was controlled with the help of

John Laing withdrew the offer, saying the job would have been too stressful
for Watkiss. According to Russell Jones & Walker and the charity Mind, it
did not seek medical advice, nor discuss the issue with Watkiss or his

No one at John Laing was available for comment.

By Philip Whiteley.

Case round-up

• Goodwin v the Patent Office, October 1998

The Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that someone with a diagnosed
psychiatric condition is covered by the Act

• Kapadia v London Borough of Lambeth, May 1999

Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that stress at work could be a disability
and that the original tribunal ignored medical evidence. The EAT ordered a
fresh hearing

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