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Councillor wins legal battle with parish over failure to provide reading aid

A parish council discriminated against a councillor with visual impairment by failing to provide him with reading aids to carry out his duties.

That finding has come following six employment tribunal hearings in Bedford and Huntingdon between November 2015 and May 2016 concerning former Brixworth parish councillor Stephen Pointer.

Mr Pointer took legal action against the Northamptonshire parish when it failed to provide him with assistance to read official documents despite having passed a resolution to do so.

He said the council failed to make appropriate adjustments to accommodate his disability under the Equality Act.

Mr Pointer also claimed he had been harassed over the matter by being insulted during council meetings and by the council refusing to accept his apology for an absence.

Brixworth offered to pay for an iPad for Mr Pointer but said he should pay for its maintenance and insurance, which he said infringed the Act.

The tribunal’s ruling stated: “It is regrettable that rather than resolve the issue by removing the unlawful requirement placed on [Mr Pointer] to pay for maintenance and insurance, the [council] entered into a lengthy and continuing and ultimately damaging dispute.

“That they have sought to lay the blame for this at [Mr Pointer’s] door is wholly inappropriate. The obligation to make reasonable adjustments…lies with the respondent and the respondent alone. The claimant has no obligation in that regard.”

The tribunal also noted: “The fact that a disabled person seeks to enforce his or her rights through a legal process when the obligation has not been met should not be met with the reaction which the respondent had in this case to subsequently ‘pull up the drawbridge’ and fight the proceedings.”

Mr Pointer also suffered discrimination when he was publicly named at a council meeting as having brought proceedings against Brixworth, it ruled.

It did though dismiss other claims Mr Pointer had made relating to discrimination.

Parish council clerk Emma Baker said: “The parish council have noted the comments in the employment tribunal judgement. We are actively reviewing procedures.  We look forward to being able to publish a full report in due course after the final hearing has concluded.”

A hearing on remedy and costs is due in October.

PDF logoDownload a copy of the judgment here

Mark Smulian

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