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Cases on whether stammer is a ‘disability’

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Last updated 26th June 2020.

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

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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’ (apart from one where it was not accepted he had a stammer at all). 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

S 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 S v The Lord Advocate 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 specifically on stammering that I know of, where it has been disputed and the tribunal decided the issue, the tribunal has held that the stammer was a ‘disability’ – apart from one in 2019 where it was not accepted the claimant had a stammer at all. Examples are:

G v British Airways, Employment Tribunal, 2020
The employment tribunal refused to allow a claimant to amend his claim to add disability discrimination related to stammering. The tribunal very much doubted his stammer was a disability, but does not seem to have heard evidence on this and did not reach a decision on it. In any event, the tribunal was convinced the stammer played no effective role in the employer rejecting his job application.

C v Spencer & Arlington, 2019, Employment Tribunal
The employment tribunal rejected a claim that an employee had a stammer which (he said) started in adulthood. He contended that the stammer was why he had raised his voice in a meeting, but he gave a different explanation at the time. He had not told the employer he had a stammer. Also the tribunal said that none of the employer’s witnesses had ever perceived a stammer.

M v Asda, 2012, Employment Tribunal
A worker was dismissed after speaking in the store to his cousin and co-worker in what was described as a loud and threatening manner. He said it was his stammer that caused him to raise his voice unusually and to gesticulate. The tribunal seems to have held his stammer was a disability. Even so his disability discrimination claim failed.

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.

S 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.

B 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.

T 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.

One case which does not seem to have been on stammering as such, though a stammer was mentioned as possibly involved:

M v Mitie Aviation Security, 2017, Employment Tribunal
A claimant who spoke fast, and may or may not have had cluttering or a stammer, was held not to have a disability within the Equality Act.
Comment: This was not particularly a case on stammering. In any event, I think further arguments could have been raised to argue it was a disability.

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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