€15,000 compensation for man with dyspraxia dismissed after firm googled the condition

A decision by a Dublin airport-based airline services firm to discriminatorily dismiss a man with dyspraxia was informed by one of the firm’s managers carrying out a ‘Google’ search on dyspraxia.

In the case before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), it has ordered Sky Handling Partner Ltd to pay €15,000 in compensation to Stephen Dunne for his discriminatory dismissal as an Aircraft Service Agent.

The firm discriminatorily dismissed Mr Dunne in April 2018 after a report by one of Sky Handling Partner's managers, referred to as Mr B, concluded that Stephen Dunne “is not suitable for a position within the ramp department in Dublin Airport”.

Mr Dunne - who took the case to the WRC with the assistance of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) - told the hearing that he holds a full driver licence and drives all the time without issue.

Mr Dunne was dismissed without formal explanation only a month into his employment as an Aircraft Service Agent for Sky Handling Partner in April 2018.

What is dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults and individuals may vary in how their difficulties present.

In her ruling, WRC Adjudication Officer, Valerie Murtagh said that the report carried out by one of the firm’s managers, referred to as 'Mr B', “is grounded on assumptions and generalisations about persons with dyspraxia but is not grounded on actual facts about the complainant’s specific condition”.

'Quite astonishing'

In response to questioning from Ms Murtagh at the hearing, Mr B stated that his research involved doing a Google search on dyspraxia on his PC.

In her findings, Ms Murtagh states: “It is quite astonishing, in my opinion, that Mr B compiled a report on the complainant without ever having met him or obtaining expert independent advice on the specifics of the complainant’s condition.”

In her adjudication, Ms Murtagh found that Sky Handling Partner had failed to provide Mr Dunne with reasonable accommodation related to his disability and found that he was discriminatorily dismissed on the grounds of his disability.

In his report, Mr B concluded that “Dublin Airport can be a hazardous environment due to the large amount of aircraft traffic every day… As Stephen is suffering from dyspraxia, this may place him more at risk by working in an already hazardous environment. Spatial awareness is a vital key within this role and everybody within the airport always needs to be aware of what is happening around them”.

Mr B stated that “the ramp environment is a place where there is very little margin for error and a person with difficulties in co-ordination and/or unfamiliar environments may have difficulty adapting to the workplace”.

Mr B concluded that “based on all facts given and received, I do not feel that Stephen Dunne is suitable for a position within the ramp department in Dublin Airport. The hazard identification and associated risk factor have increased due to his condition and the nature of the environment and my opinion is factored on ensuring the safety of Stephen and our employees.”

In his argument at the WRC, Mr Dunne contended that Mr B’s report is based entirely on speculation not grounded on facts about persons with dyspraxia and in particular on any actual facts about him.

Mr Dunne asserted that it is clear that Mr B did not have the necessary information or expertise to make such a report. Mr Dunne added the Mr B report was dated the day after he was told by HR Business Partner, Ms H that he could not be employed by Sky Handing Partner as he would be a hazard.

Mr Dunne contended that as a result, Mr B’s report appears to be a retrospective attempt to provide a justification for terminating his employment.

Mr Dunne was dismissed on April 20, 2018. Sky Handling Partner told the WRC that Mr Dunne did not complete the required training for the position and therefore could not conduct the role for which he was employed.

Mr Dunne submitted that the decision to dismiss him was a discriminatory dismissal and made purely on the basis of his disability and a non-fact based perception that he would not be “suitable” for the role.

Review of procedures

In her findings, Ms Murtagh found that Mr Dunne “has demonstrated a nexus in relation to his termination of employment and his disability” and Sky Handling Partner has not rebutted the evidence.

Along with ordering Sky Handling Partner pay Mr Dunne €15,000, Ms Murtagh has ruled that the firm must conduct a review of its procedures in relation to employment policies and practices to ensure compliance with the Employment Equality Acts.

Mr Dunne today welcomed the outcome. He said: “I feel happy with the outcome, I was just very disappointed with the company after the way they handled my employment. I want to thank, the Commission, my solicitor and the barrister for taking my case.”

Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Emily Logan also welcomed the ruling.

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