Community charity discriminated against and unfairly dismissed dyslexic employee, tribunal rules

Charity

A dyslexic employee was discriminated against and unfairly dismissed by his charity employer, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Robert Debont, the former facilities manager at the charity-run community building Marsh Farm Futures, was dismissed after clashes with members of the organisation’s management and its chief executive, Mohammed Rafi.

The tribunal found that Debont experienced disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 as a result of two specific incidents that took place at the charity before his unfair dismissal. 

The first incident involved Rafi humiliating Debont in a board meeting on 29 March 2021 by highlighting mistakes that he had made in written policies and implying that they were illegible.

The second involved Rafi sending an email belittling a series of health and safety policy proposals that Debont had put forward. 

The email stated: “In all your policies there are mistakes and they are incoherent…

“Your last set of policy documents in the health and safety statement that you wanted me to send to the board for the March 2021 board meeting was reviewed by me and contained many mistakes and were disjointed and confusing…

“Staff have not agreed to work and sign up to policies that are badly written and are jumbled and confusing, otherwise they feel they would be signing up to policies that they do not understand which they cannot be asked to work to.”

The tribunal ruled that both complaints were justified, stating: “Mr Rafi’s comments in the board Meeting on 29 March 2021 do constitute unfavourable treatment. 

“We consider that it was unnecessary for Mr Rafi to descend into the level of criticism which he did in the board meeting about the nature of the claimant’s difficulties in producing written work. 

“This is clearly unfavourable treatment of the claimant and it is also clearly unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of the claimant’s disability, namely dyslexia.”

It added: We make exactly the same finding in respect of the email of 13 May 2021. 

“That also constitutes unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of the claimant’s dyslexia.”

Debont was subsequently summoned to a meeting at short notice and informed he was at risk of redundancy, then immediately sent home and locked out of all company systems, including his company email account, the tribunal found. 

In its ruling, the tribunal said: “On the balance of probabilities the respondents, and in particular Mr Rafi, had decided that the claimant essentially had to be dismissed and that the redundancy process and the consultation were nothing more than a device or a sham to facilitate the swift removal of the claimant.” 

The redundancy process subsequently changed into a disciplinary process based on complaints about Debont’s behaviour, including acting in an inappropriate manner on a telephone call with a human resources consultant.

During the process, a “very unfortunate set of circumstances” occurred, the tribunal said, in which the recommendation of an external consultant that Debont be dismissed was sent to him in error. 

The tribunal said: “The claimant, not surprisingly, regarded himself as dismissed at that point.” 

Rafi realised the error and wrote to Debont saying that the report had been sent in error, but later confirmed that Debont was dismissed, having accepted the recommendations of the report, the tribunal found. 

Debont’s claim for unfair dismissal succeeded, and claims of disability discrimination and harassment partially succeeded, the tribunal ruled. Additional claims brought by Debont, including for indirect disability discrimination and failure to make reasonable adjustments, were dismissed.  

The judgement said that compensation due to Mr Debont would be decided at a later date.

Marsh Farm Futures works with the local community in Bedfordshire to enable them to play a role in initiating businesses, delivering new services and community activities in the area, according to its website. 

At the time of publishing the charity had not responded to a request for comment from Third Sector.

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