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"You fat b@57@rd" – disability harassment claim upheld

16/02/2015
Following on from the much publicised decision of the European Court of Justice finding in Kaltoft v Municipality of Billund, just before Christmas, that obesity could be a disability where it Following on from the much publicised decision of the European Court of Justice finding in Kaltoft v Municipality of Billund, just before Christmas, that obesity could be a disability where it represents a limitation that hinders a person's full and effective participation in professional life, a Northern Irish Industrial Tribunal in Bickerstaff v Butcher has upheld a claim of disability harassment where the disability alleged is obesity.

Mr Bickerstaff worked for Randox Laboratories. Mr Bickerstaff is morbidly obese with a BMI of 48.5. One employee in particular, Gerard Butcher, on an almost daily basis verbally abused Mr Bickerstaff calling him various offensive names prefixed by "fat". Mr Bickerstaff raised a grievance and went off sick with stress, Mr Butcher admitted his actions but alleged it was just "banter". Randox dismissed Mr Butcher for gross misconduct and settled a claim brought by Mr Bickerstaff. However, Mr Bickerstaff continued to bring a claim against Mr Butcher alleging harassment relating to disability.

Relying on medical evidence the Tribunal found that Mr Bickerstaff's mobility is "substantially affected by his morbid obesity" and found that he is a disabled person within the meaning set out in the Equality Act. It also went on to uphold Mr Bickerstaff's claim against Mr Butcher.

This is the first case in the UK relating to obesity as a disability following the ECJ decision in Kaltoft. It is a reminder that the victims of harassment can pursue and obtain compensation from those who perpetrate the harassment. It is also a good reminder that the Equality Act has a wide reach and that when giving equal opportunities and dignity at work training respect for others should not just be limited to a narrow interpretation of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act. If you would like to discuss this case, training or any particular issues relating to obesity or the Equality Act please do not hesitate to contact me or one of the team.

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