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Wednesday, October 21, 1998 Published at 18:02 GMT 19:02 UK


Health

Mentally ill hail landmark ruling

The appeal ruling could mean more protection for many mentally ill people

Many people with mental illness will be protected from discrimation at work, following a landmark legal ruling.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled on Wednesday that a former civil servant with paranoid schizophrenia had a disability.

This means he qualifies for protection under the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

An earlier employment tribunal had found that Dr Matthew Goodwin did not have a disability.

He is the first person with a mental illness to win an appeal against a DDA ruling.

The decision means his case will go before another employment tribunal which will decide if his employers unfairly discriminated against him.

Guidelines

In giving its ruling, the Appeal Tribunal set down guidelines for other cases involving mental illness.

It said employers should consider the World Health Organisation classification of diseases when considering disability.

They should also consider whether a person was able to perform key day-to-day activities and whether their condition affected the way they worked.

According to mental health charity Mind, Dr Goodwin's condition affected the way he did his job and his perception of his colleagues.

Under the DDA, which applies to employers of 20 people or more, it is illegal to treat a disabled person less favourably than an able-bodied person unless this is justified.

Employers also have to show that they have made reasonable attempts to adjust to the person's conditions so that they can carry on working, although this has to be weighed up against whether this would adversely affect colleagues.

These could include allowing people time off to go to the doctor.

Stigma

Since the introduction of the DDA, which also covers discrimination against disabled consumers, there have been around 2,500 cases brought.

A tiny number are on mental health grounds. Mind says this may be partly to do with the stigma attached to mental illness.

"People may not want to go through the stress of court proceedings and it may be awkward to announce to the world that they have a mental illness because of the stigma attached to it," said Simon Foster from Mind's legal unit.

He added that he hoped people would read about the Goodwin case and be spurred to action.

"It's about time that diagnosed mental health problems of this kind, including schizophrenia, are recognised as a disability," he said.



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