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Cases on whether stammer is a 'disability'

This page brings together cases where the tribunal has specifically considered whether the claimant's stammer is a 'disability'.

Summary

In an early decision, in 2000, a tribunal held that the claimant's stammer (largely concealed) was not a disability. In view of this decision, statutory guidance was changed to make clear that hidden effects of a stammer can be relevant.

In all subsequent cases I know of, the tribunal has held that the claimant's stammer was a 'disability'. However, it will always depend on the facts of the case, and the evidence.

Often, the employer concedes that the stammer is a disability, so there is no dispute. See generally Cases on stammering.

Early decision

Shaughnessy v The Lord Advocate (2000), Employment Tribunal
A lawyer with a stammer was turned down for a job. His DDA claim failed on the grounds that the stammer did not have a 'substantial' effect. His stammer was largely concealed and was held to be too minor to be a 'disability.

The tribunal focused on what the claimant 'does', on what an outside observer would see. It is very doubtful that a tribunal would reach the same decision today. When the 2006 Guidance on definition of disability was being prepared, British Stammering Association (BSA) expressed its concern at the Shaughnessy decision. BSA argued that the new guidance should make clear that effects of a stammer may be hidden, and that hidden effects are relevant in deciding whether it is a disability. This was reflected in the 2006 guidance, and has been carried forward into the current 2011 guidance. (See Hiding the stammer)

Later decisions

In all later cases I know of where it has been disputed, the tribunal has held that the stammer was a 'disability'. Examples are:

Stuttering Asda worker 'sacked because his desperate efforts to speak were interpreted as aggressive behaviour' (link to dailymail.co.uk), 2/5/12.
An ongoing case. The employer was not willing to concede the stammer was a disability. However, the tribunal seems to have decided it was a disability (though this is not totally clear from the report), and the case was to go on for a full hearing

Wakefield v HM Land Registry (2008), Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).
A previous tribunal decision (not disputed) held that the stammer was a 'disability', acknowleding the significant effect that covert symptoms of stammering may have. The claim as a whole failed though - the EAT overturned an employment tribunal decision that the claimant should have been allowed to give written answers to interview questions.

Shirlow v Translink (2007-08), Employment Tribunal
An existing employee failed a 'competence-based interview' as he did not provide enough examples and evidence of his competencies. The tribunal held that his stammer was a disability. However, on the facts there was no breach of the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Blacker v Servisair (UK) Ltd (2004), Employment Tribunal
The tribunal held a 'speech impediment' to be a 'physical impairment'. Since the applicant's impairment undisputedly had the required long term and substantial effects, he was disabled within the DDA. In fact the tribunal does not say whether the 'speech impediment' was a stammer.

Townsend v Office for National Statistics (2004), Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT)
The EAT reports that at a preliminary hearing it was determined that, because of his stammer, the claimant was at all material times a person with a disability for the purposes of the DDA. However, there was held to be no discrimination.

For more cases on stammering, including a number where the employer conceded that the stammer was a 'disability', see Cases on stammering.

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Last updated 6th February, 2013