Disability discrimination risk for council suing former MD

A council suing its former managing director for £1m for allegedly lying on her job application is at risk of being accused of disability discrimination, an expert has warned.

Cheltenham Borough Council has taken Christine Laird, 52, to court alleging she failed to disclose she suffered from depression when applying for the job in 2002. Laird denies the claim, although was absent from work on full pay due to illness in 2004, and left the post the following year.

The council claimed the £85,000-a-year managing director was guilty of ‘fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation’ by giving false answers on forms about her medical history.

However, Selwyn Blyth, senior associate in the employment team at law firm Pinsent Masons, told Personnel Today: “The council appears to be saying that if it had known about her bouts of depressive illness, this would have swung the vote against her and she wouldn’t have been appointed. This sounds like an adverse decision based on the fact she had been ill – ie, direct disability discrimination, which cannot be justified and is, therefore, an unlawful basis for making a decision.”

Blyth added that Laird may have been in good health at the time she was employed, even if she had suffered from depression in the past. The fact she worked for two years before having time off showed that she was, he said.

“Employers should not see this case as a green light to disciplining or dismissing employees who have not revealed information about their health at recruitment.”

The council maintains that Laird claimed she was fit to take on the most senior management role when in fact she had suffered from mental health problems.

The case continues.

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