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Being the Respondent that has to pay the second largest disability discrimination award ever made by the Employment Tribunal was probably not the sort of publicity Kellog Brown and Root (UK) Ltd were aiming for.
The Claimant in the case of Barrow v Kellog Brown and Root (UK) Ltd first started working for the Respondent as a graduate trainee on 1 September 1980. At the time of his dismissal he had been employed by the Respondent for just over 36 years, the majority of his working life.
The sequence of events detailed in the London South Tribunal’s liability judgement leave one in little doubt that Mr Barrow was treated extremely badly by his employer following a change in his behaviour due to the strong oral steroid Mr Barrow was taking for a skin condition. A condition that was later to be diagnosed as Mycosis Fungoides, a form of lymphoma (cancer).
Following a purported summary dismissal, Mr Barrow was subjected to a ‘sham’ process in which the Respondent attempted to justify his dismissal as a ‘some other substantial reason’ dismissal, namely a breakdown in trust and confidence.
The Tribunal award
The Tribunal dismissed a few of Mr Barrow’s claims but found in his favour in terms of unfair dismissal, disability-related harassment and discrimination arising in consequence of disability.
Discrimination awards are not subject to a cap, unlike straight unfair dismissal claims. The Tribunal accepted that Mr Barrow would not work again and therefore career long losses were sustained. Mr Barrow was 60 at the time of his dismissal. In addition to career-long losses, Mr Barrow was awarded injury to feelings, together with £25,000 for pain, suffering and loss of amenity. The Tribunal also made an award of aggravated damages in the sum of £7,500.
What can employers learn from this case?
The consequences of getting it wrong can be costly. As this case demonstrates, an individual who has suffered discrimination during employment can claim compensation for a number of factors including financial losses, injury to feelings, personal injury and in cases of exceptionally bad treatment, aggravated damages.
What stayed with me most after reading this case though was not the strikingly high award but the fact that according to the firm that represented him, Mr Barrow told them:
‘It has been the most traumatic event in my life, even more than being diagnosed with cancer, and I have been deeply scarred by the way I was treated by the company’.
As a fellow human being, I would not want my business, or a business I was employed/engaged by, to ever be responsible for causing someone to summarise their experience in this way.
All employers should strive to deter and prevent discrimination in the workplace not just because getting it wrong can be expensive but because getting it wrong is just, well, wrong.