Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Ex-partner of accounting firm fails in disability discrimination appeal

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A former partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers failed today in a bid to overturn a ruling that he had not suffered disability discrimination.

Colin Tenner was appealing an industrial tribunal's decision to throw out a case taken after his position in the firm was terminated.

But senior judges in Belfast rejected all grounds of challenge, including a claim that the panel did not properly consider the alleged discrimination was based on his mental illness.

Mr Tenner's partnership was ended in February 2010 - two and a half years after he went off work suffering from stress and depression.

The chartered accountant, who joined PWC in 1987, had been consistently graded as an outstanding performer.

At the time his mental health problems began he was working on a public private partnership project involving the Belfast Education and Library Board.

He brought a case against the firm alleging direct disability discrimination on the basis of his illness.

Claims of victimisation and a failure to make reasonable adjustments in steps taken before he returned to work or to offer a job without modification were also advanced.

Mr Tenner's lawyer argued that his illness had been met with "denial, unfounded scepticism, ignorance and ultimately bad faith" by senior partners in PWC.

One e-mail received when he had a previous minor ailment stated "real partners don't get sick", the Court of Appeal heard.

In its ruling in June 2011 the tribunal acknowledged there was "a macho culture" within the firm.

But it found no evidence that any PWC witnesses showed animosity, prejudice, or intolerance to disabled persons.

The tribunal held that from September 2007 to September 2008 there had been a clear desire on the part of management to get Mr Tenner back to work.

It also cited the public-private-partnership division's performance in Northern Ireland by the summer of 2008 as a reason for his post becoming redundant.

Mr Tenner had anticipated revenues of £3.2 million in the 2009 financial year.

But because of the economic slowdown future annual levels of fees were likely to be less than £1m.

The target income for a partner was £2.5m per year, the court heard.

Mr Tenner had been offered a post in London after losing his Northern Ireland role, but had not taken it because of his illness and that fact that his mother had suffered a stroke.

According to the tribunal, however, he would not have had to relocate to take up the job, but could have stayed there three nights a week instead.

Ruling on his appeal today, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: "In our view this was a case where the tribunal was inevitably drawn into making a finding as to the validity of these complaints and concluded that the redundancy was genuine, the offer of the job in London was open to the appellant on a 3/4/5 (night) basis and that there was no other alternative post available for him."

The judge added: "We do not accept that the finding by the tribunal that the alternative job offer was genuine and reasonable could be characterised as perverse."

Dismissing the appeal, Sir Declan confirmed that none of the grounds of challenge had been made out.

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