Paranoid Delusions And Disability Discrimination: Court of Appeal Reaffirms Its Fact Sensitivity
In the recent case of Sullivan v Bury Street Capital Limited  (EWCA Civ 1694), the Court of Appeal held that an employee who suffered from paranoid delusions did not have a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
Mr Sullivan had worked for Bury Street Capital since 2009. Following the breakdown of a relationship in 2013, he began suffering from paranoid delusions. This affected his sleep, social interactions, record-keeping, attendance and timekeeping at work. Between July 2014 and September 2017, this was constantly reflected in Mr Sullivan’s performance reviews. On 7 September 2017, Mr Sullivan was signed off from work by a GP. Bury Street Capital then dismissed Mr Sullivan on grounds of capability.
Mr Sullivan brought several employment claims including unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. For the latter, the key issue for the employment tribunal to consider was whether Mr Sullivan’s delusional disorder satisfied the definition of a ‘disability’ for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 (the ‘Act’). Focusing on the wording of the Act, the tribunal analysed whether the disorder had a substantial and long-term adverse effect on Mr Sullivan’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
While the tribunal upheld Mr Sullivan’s claim for unfair dismissal, they rejected his disability discrimination claim. On the facts, Mr Sullivan’s delusions only had a substantial adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities during two discrete periods, each of which lasted for a matter of months, over the course of four years. Consequently, while there was a substantial adverse effect during these periods, it was not long-term and unlikely to last for more than twelve months. Further, the substantial adverse effect was not likely to recur, although the tribunal noted that the question of recurrence is always to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Even if the tribunal was wrong in its conclusion that Mr Sullivan was not disabled, the same findings would have led it to conclude that his employer did not have knowledge of that disability.
The Court of Appeal decided that the tribunal was entitled to reach these conclusions and upheld their decision.
Why is this significant?
This case highlights the fact-sensitive nature of disability discrimination scenarios and illustrates the hurdles for claimants to overcome. Contrary to Mr Sullivan’s arguments, the tribunal was not required to rule on the basis of the four conditions set out in Goodwin v Patent Office  (deemed as relevant to determining whether a person had a disability) or the Explanatory Notes to the Act, which simply gave a hypothetical example of a situation where there might be a substantial adverse effect.
Importantly, however, this decision does not create a precedent that tribunals will never class paranoid delusions as a disability. If a Claimant in a future case is able to prove they are suffering from paranoid delusions which have lasted or are likely to last at least 12 months, such that they have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, a tribunal may well find in their favour. Sullivan is a useful reminder that everything depends on the facts.
Read the full judgement here.
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This article was prepared by Tom Revitt.