This headline sure sounds lurid and outrageous: a teacher who takes a student to a dance, gets her totally drunk and takes her home at 3 am. And his firing was reversed by the court! Let’s add some more facts from the case and ask at the end of this article if the results should have been different.
The case arose in the UK, and the teacher had the parents’ consent to take her to the concert (but not to get her drunk or return her at 3 am – by which time the police had been called). At his disciplinary hearing he testified (and produced medical evidence) that he had hypomania caused by bipolar affective disorder (which had not yet been diagnosed) and/or the effects of depression. He claimed that his judgment was thus impaired by his disability. Nonetheless, he was fired for gross misconduct, and sued for disability discrimination under the Equality Act of 2010..
The Manchester Employment Tribunal reinstated him, holding that his conduct was “substantially affected by his mood change and hypomania as a result of bipolar affective disorder exacerbated by his medication at the time, to the extent that the Tribunal finds that the predominant reason for the behaviour was the disability.” While noting that the school’s discipline of the teacher was in furtherance of safeguarding children and of protecting the school’s reputation, the tribunal held that dismissal was disproportionate in achieving the safety aims.
The tribunal stated that the school “failed to carry out any kind of exercise of assessing or evaluating the risk of repetition. … [which] is fatal to any justification argument based around the risk to children,” and that the teacher’s firing was not “proportionate to address any perceived threat to reputation”.
The takeaway from this British case is that under the UK Equality Act of 2010, the punishment must fit the crime when it comes to disability discrimination. Put another way, when there is a disability, the employer can discriminate if the result is proportionate to the challenged actions.
Is this a just result? Would this be the result in the US?
See Jamieson v Governing Body of Chorlton High School,  EqLR 429 (Manchester Employment Tribunal, February 21, 2013)