A judge with dyslexia has won a discrimination claim against the Ministry of Justice because of the department’s failure to provide voice-recognition software to help her carry out her job.
Judge Eeley at Reading employment tribunal found that the government department breached an equality law that required reasonable adjustments to be made for Zorina Nadine Clarkson Palomares to conduct judicial business efficiently.
The tribunal said the ministry had breached its duty by failing to provide Ms Clarkson Palomares – an immigration and social security specialist judge – with the necessary software and training. It also criticised the ministry for not providing the option of a proofreader.
Delivering its judgment on 13 January, the tribunal ruled that the government failed to provide voice recognition software from September 2016 until December 2018 and failing to provide training on the proper use of the software from September 2016 until May 2019.
The tribunal also upheld a complaint that the government indirectly discriminated against Ms Clarkson Palomares in relation to the requirement to provide written statements in the social security and child support tribunal without the use of voice recognition software between September 2016 and December 2018.
The ruling stated: “[They] did not know how to handle the claimant’s situation properly. There was no pre-existing policy to deal with a judicial officeholder facing the challenges that were faced by the claimant”.
Court service officials had done their best to provide the claimant with what she needed, heard the tribunal, but that “in the absence of an appropriate policy or procedure they came up against significant obstacles”.
Ms Clarkson Palomares said that the failures had affected her ability to do her job and resulted in her being unjustly criticised and unfairly threatened with disciplinary sanctions.
Other complaints she brought, alleging that the government breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments, were dismissed, including in relation to the provision of suitable recording systems and a proofreading “checklist”.
Allegations of section 15 discrimination and section 26 harassment against the government were also dismissed.
However, the government was criticised for an “overall lack of coordination and pre-planning” that resulted in a “lengthy and problematic chronology of events”.
The judgment stated: “As a tribunal we have had the opportunity to stand back from the detail of this case and look at it holistically. Unfortunately, nobody within the respondent’s organisation was able to do the same. Put simply, the respondent organisation did not know how to handle the claimant’s situation properly. There was no pre-existing policy to deal with a judicial office-holder facing the challenges that were faced by the claimant.”
The absence of a proper policy or procedure presented obstacles that individuals in the courts and tribunals service, despite their willingness to help, were unable to overcome, found the tribunal judge.
“Furthermore, the absence of an overall policy meant that nobody took ownership of the problem. It also meant that lines of accountability were unclear. Who had responsibility for taking the various steps required? If those steps were no taken (or not taken timeously) who should the claimant approach to have this rectified? Indeed, who should her leadership judges have been able to approach to rectify the problem?
“It is this overall lack of coordination and pre-planning which has led to such a lengthy and problematic chronology of events in the claimant’s case.”