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Case update (1): Disability discrimination – unfavourable advantageous treatment

Summary:  Was a disabled employee treated unfavourably (and therefore discriminated against) when his enhanced pension on ill-health retirement was based on the salary he earned when working part time due to his disability, rather than his full time salary?

No, says the Court of Appeal in Williams v The Trustees of Swansea University Pension & Assurance Scheme and another, available here.

Facts:  Mr Williams, the employee, was disabled. He suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. He reduced his hours with his employer, Swansea University, in order to better cope with his condition. His pay was reduced accordingly. After his condition deteriorated further he took ill-health retirement at the age of 38.

Under the rules of Swansea University’s Pension Scheme, Mr Williams was allowed to take his accrued pension benefits immediately and without any actuarial reduction for early receipt, rather than having to wait until his normal pension date nearly twenty-nine years later. His benefits were therefore significantly enhanced, in that he was treated as though he had accrued nearly twenty nine years further pensionable service.

Mr Williams brought a disability discrimination claim at the Tribunal under s 15 of the Equality Act 2010. This section allows for claims of “discrimination arising from disability” which occur where the employee is treated “unfavourably” because of something arising in consequence of the employee’s disability, and does not require comparison with an identifiable comparator (whether actual or hypothetical).

Mr Williams argued that, by using his actual part time salary rather than a full time equivalent, the calculation of the enhancement to his benefits for the period after he took ill-health retirement amounted to “unfavourable” treatment and therefore unlawful discrimination. The Tribunal upheld his claim.

The University successfully appealed to the EAT. Mr Williams appealed to the Court of Appeal arguing that:

The Court of Appeal agreed with the EAT, finding that:

Implications:  Good news for employers as this decision confirms that treatment that is advantageous will not amount to unfavourable treatment simply because it could have been even more advantageous. However, it is possible that this case will be appealed to the Supreme Court.


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