Gym Worker wins her disability discrimination claim at the Employment Tribunal

Ali Burton, a personal trainer who works for a Nuffield Health club in West Sussex has won her employment tribunal claim for disability discrimination.

The employee suffered from a condition known as Generalised anxiety disorder which is triggered by bodily fluids including blood and sweat and advised her employer before starting the role back in May 2019 that by simply touching items with ‘cleanliness and hygiene issues’ it could trigger her anxiety.

Her condition caused her to suffer panic attacks and emotional distress when coming into contact with something that she considers to have ‘cleanliness issues’. This in turn caused loss of energy and disturbed sleep. Ms Burton has suffered from the condition for a number of years and self-managed it without the need for medication.

Unfortunately, things came to a head when she refused to pick up sweaty towels on her managers instructions and she then issued her claim.

Ms Burton told the employment tribunal how she felt ’embarrassed at having to explain and justify’ her condition. Although her employer changed the work rota to try and avoid tasks that were not compatible with her condition, managers still continued to harass her and this led to her issuing her claim.

One of the managers was alleged to have compared working in a gym with a mental health condition to someone with a milk allergy working in Costa Coffee. The manager in question at the hearing denied making the comment but the employment tribunal ruled that it was too specific a comment to have been fabricated. The employer also tried to argue that she was hostie and difficult to work with.

The employment judge ruled that Ms Burton suffered unlawful harassment and that she was discriminated against on the grounds of her disability. The employment tribunal will determine compensation in due course unless the matter is appealed by the employer.

This case demonstrates the importance of treating physical and mental impairments seriously, and in making reasonable adjustments to accommodate an employee’s disability. It is also baffling why the case wasn’t settled and was instead aired in a public forum with adverse publicity for the gym.

If you have any challenges relating to possible disability discrimination issues in the workplace then get in touch with Steven Eckett, Partner and Head of Employment at Meaby & Co LLP. E-mail seckett@meaby.co.uk Tel: 020 7703 5034