The recent decision in Metroline Travel Ltd v Stoute  has highlighted that sufferers of diet-controlled Type II diabetes are not automatically protected from disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (the “Act”).
Mr Stoute was a bus driver who suffered from Type II diabetes which he controlled largely by following a low sugar diet and, in particular, by avoiding sugary drinks. Mr Stoute brought various claims against Metroline, including a disability discrimination claim, as a result of his dismissal following an incident where he was late for work. He argued that the reason for his lateness was because of a digestive problem, which was a side effect of his condition.
Under the Act, a person shall be deemed as having a disability where they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The Employment Tribunal held, as a preliminary issue, that Mr Stoute was disabled within the meaning of the Act. However, Mr Stoute’s substantive complaints for unfair dismissal, discrimination arising from a disability and failure to make reasonable adjustments were dismissed.
Metroline had a number of other employees that suffered from Type II diabetes and, in order to avoid any future claims of a similar nature, Metroline appealed against the decision that Mr Stoute’s condition constituted a disability. The Employment Appeal Tribunal concluded that Mr Stoute was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.
In allowing the appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal did not accept that abstaining from sugary drinks could be deemed as a substantial interference with ordinary day-to-day activities, and noted that it was a minor diet alteration which did not amount to medical treatment.
Although medicated diabetes sufferers are regularly considered to be disabled within the meaning of the Act, the decision seems to suggest that a condition, which can be controlled by a minor diet alteration, is unlikely to be viewed as a disability. This may arguably make it harder for people suffering from other conditions that can be controlled by avoiding certain foods/drinks, such as nut allergies or lactose intolerances, to claim that they are disabled.
However, it should not be assumed that all individuals with a diet-controlled condition are incapable of satisfying the definition of a disabled person under the Act. Cases turn on their individual facts.
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