Definition of disability – Sullivan v Bury Street Capital Limited

Do you ever suffer from paranoid delusions that you are being stalked by a gang of Russian mafia?  No, neither do we!  

The Claimant did suffer from such delusions in the case of Sullivan v Bury Street Capital Limited and claimed that when he was dismissed (for capability issues), these were resulting from paranoid delusions which he asserted qualified as a disability under the Equality Act.

The Claimant was a sales executive with a small finance company.  From about July 2013, following a split with a Ukrainian girlfriend, the Claimant suffered paranoid delusions that he was being followed and stalked by a Russian gang.  These delusions affected his timekeeping, attendance and record-keeping (which were already a matter of concern even before 2013).  However, things improved after September 2013.  Whilst there were sporadic references to the Claimant’s poor attitude in that period, it was not until April 2017 that there was a worsening of the effect of the paranoid delusions on his day-to-day activities.  The Claimant’s employment was terminated on 8th September 2017, ostensibly for reasons to do with capability and attitude.  The Claimant lodged a claim complaining of unfair dismissal, disability discrimination and deduction of wages (amongst others).  

The Tribunal held that he did not have a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.  It was accepted that at some times the condition had “a substantial adverse effect on the Claimant’s day-to-day activities” (needed to satisfy the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010) but the Tribunal concluded that at the time it was not “long term” as it was unlikely to recur.  There was no error in the Tribunal reasoning and the fact that the substantial adverse effect of the condition did in fact later come back, did not mean that the Tribunal was wrong in concluding that, at the earlier date, it was not likely to do so.

The likely recurrence of a condition means that some medical conditions which do not appear to be substantial and long-term, can sometimes qualify as disabilities within the meaning of the Equality Act.  The case is a reminder of the complexity of the law in this area and the need to carefully analyse each constituent part of the definition of disability on the facts of any given case.