EAT decides on whether paranoia is a disability

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has considered whether a claimant suffering from paranoid delusions had a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.

The claimant in Sullivan v Bury Street Capital Ltd developed paranoia in May 2013, later specifying that this caused him to deliberately avoid putting information into his work calendar, or deliberately giving misleading information. The chief executive became aware of this in July 2013, admitting that the claimant appeared to be in a ‘bad place psychologically’. Despite this, the two went on a business trip in September 2013, where the claimant’s condition appeared to be improving.

Over the next few years, the claimant received psychological help for his condition and started to manage it much more effectively. However, the relationship between him and the chief executive began to break down, with continued discussions being had over his time keeping and attitude. His paranoia did not affect him again at work until 2017, when a discussion over his remuneration was held. Following this, the claimant’s condition decreased significantly, leading to him taking time off work. After being dismissed, he brought a claim to the Employment Tribunal (ET) for disability discrimination. The ET addressed whether he was disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act, ultimately concluding that he was not.

They held that although there was a ‘substantial adverse effect’ present both in 2013 and 2017, it did not meet the definition of ‘long-term’. Following his improvement towards the end of 2013, this condition had not resulted in the relevant effect on the claimant. For example, he had been allowed to attend a business trip, which would not have been permitted if he were not fit for the task.

The claimant appealed on numerous grounds.

The EAT dismissed his appeal. They found that the ET had lawfully drawn the distinction between the claimant’s condition, namely his delusional beliefs, and the impact of this on his ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Explaining that the effect of a condition can vary over time, they held that although there was a substantial adverse effect in 2013, and again in 2017, in neither case was it likely that the condition would last 12 months or more.

The ET had correctly assessed the intermittent years where the condition had not had an adverse effect, taking evidence from medical professionals, and other employees of the respondent, to find that the claimant’s condition had improved between September 2013 and April 2017.

The EAT also dismissed his argument that his condition was likely to recur. This was because the law on recurring conditions relates to past disabilities; the claimant’s condition had continued throughout the period in question. Where an adverse effect does occur again at a later date, it does not mean that the ET automatically needs to conclude that the first occurrence was ‘likely’ to reoccur; they need only assess the situation with the evidence at hand. The EAT agreed that the adverse effects were unlikely to recur as the triggering events.

Suggested Resources