DLA to re-defend mental health case following EAT decision

DLA Piper has failed to quash an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) case from a former lawyer and will now have to re-defend a mental health discrimination claim in the Employment Tribunal.

The claimant, known as ’J’, brought an action against the firm under the Disability Discrimination Act (2005), but was told that she was not disabled at an initial hearing. She appealed the judgment and the EAT has now ruled that the case must go to a fresh hearing.

J alleges that she was on treatment for depression when she applied for a job as a professional support lawyer at DLA Piper in 2008. Following two interviews she verbally accepted a job offer. She claims that she disclosed her diagnosis of depression and that shortly after the job offer was withdrawn on the basis of a ’recruitment freeze’.

Her solicitor, Russell Jones & Walker associate Kiran Daurka, said that “she can now go on to establish her disability and then move on to the main facts of her case”.

Daurka added that the case highlights how much more difficult it is to prove a mental health condition than a physical health condition because of its apparent invisibility and the stigma attached to it. “GPs are very experienced, they see that patient regularly. A GP note should be sufficient [proof of depression],” she said.

In  a statement DLA Piper said that it acted “entirely appropriately” in applying a recruitment freeze, adding that the freeze “unfortunately caught the job application involving the claimant”.

Stressing that it “will continue to maintain both the technical and substantive elements of our defence”, the statement said: “The judgment of the Appeal Tribunal has asked a new tribunal to reconsider the complex issues raised by the appeal in the first instance. It was open to the Appeal Tribunal to reverse the original decision which it has declined to do.

“The point of appeal went to the technicalities of the definition of “disability” under the Act. There was no consideration of the substantive merits of the case, which has yet to be heard and contested.”

Morgan Lewis & Bockius partner Matthew Howes and associate Sarah Battey represented DLA Piper. They declined to comment.