University deprived lecturer of her 'legs'

December 25, 1998

A lecturer at the University of Hull was awarded damages this week for "unnecessary stress" caused by her employer's "total lack of understanding of her disability".

Joyce Field uses an electronic buggy to get about following a stroke some years ago. She took the university to the Hull Employment Tribunal when it suddenly withdrew the assistance it had previously provided, including transporting the buggy to various venues.

This had interfered with her research, forced her to cancel meetings and damaged her prospects, according to the Humberside Law Centre representing Ms Field.

Solicitor Humphrey Forrest said the tribunal initially awarded her Pounds 2,500 for injury to feelings in recognition of the stress she had suffered. It then doubled the award because of the way the university had defended the case, challenging Ms Field's credibility, honesty and goodwill.

"This is a stinging rebuke to the university, which behaved quite disgracefully throughout," said Mr Forrest. "The university has an opportunistic view of disability, recognised by the tribunal. It sells itself as disability friendly to students where it can make money out of them but does nothing for its own staff."

The tribunal judgment said the university had had almost two years since the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act came into force to put in place appropriate measures. "It is a large organisation with over 2,000 employees and a budget of some Pounds 80 million a year and it is remarkable that this has not been done, particularly in view of the fact that this is an academic institution."

The judgment said withdrawal of transport was a direct attack upon Ms Field because the buggy was her legs. Mr Forrest said the case should send a message to other people with disabilities to use the act to challenge discrimination at work.

David Lock, registrar and secretary of Hull University, said the university greatly regretted the distress it had caused Ms Field and apologised for it.

Mr Lock said: "The university acknowledges that defects in communication and internal procedures resulted in serious misunderstanding about the provision necessary for Joyce Field to carry out her work."

He said the university had now reviewed its procedures for compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act. A number of reforms have been proposed to take into account the judgment in this case and the issues it raised.

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