United Kingdom

Autistic university lecturer wins £170,000 discrimination payout

A university lecturer with autism has won a £170,000 discrimination payout after her boss said she was as 'mad as a box of frogs.'

Elizabeth Aylott successfully sued BPP university, a private organisation in London, for disability discrimination and constructive unfair dismissal last year.     

Mrs Aylott has Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) which went undiagnosed until months after she resigned from her role in April 2019, having been repeatedly signed off work by her doctor with depression and anxiety. 

London Central Employment Tribunal previously heard Mrs Aylott's boss, Juliette Wagner, described her as 'mad as a box of frogs but a good worker'.

Judge Timothy Adkins said the comment was 'inappropriate and unprofessional'.  

Mrs Aylott has now been awarded £168,047 for financial loss and injury to feelings. 

Elizabeth Aylott (pictured) successfully sued BPP university, a private organisation in London , for disability discrimination and constructive unfair dismissal last year

The lecturer had claimed she was so overworked and stressed in her role that she suffered panic attacks and was driven to drink.  

Mrs Aylott, who specialises in HR and employment law, told the hearing she had been 'crying out for help' and suffered a breakdown 'from which she does not think she can ever recover from'.

At the tribunal, it was said Mrs Aylott had become a widow two years before she started working for BPP in 2009. She also had an ill son and had lost her father as pressures at work mounted.

It was added there was a 'long hours' culture at the University, and Mrs Aylott had worked up to 60 hours per week including on Bank Holidays.        

She admitted 'drinking three glasses of wine to help her stop work and sleep' and was later having 'four to five gin and tonics every night to self-medicate'.

The mother-of-two pleaded with her boss Steven Shaw to have her referred to a medical professional, however he brushed her stress aside as just 'her perception' and was of the view that working excess hours was 'normal'. 

London Central Employment Tribunal previously heard Mrs Aylott's boss, Juliette Wagner (pictured), described her as 'mad as a box of frogs but a good worker'

The judge criticised BPP for its 'surprising' failure to assist a worker in desperate need of help.

In a statement provided for the remedy hearing, Mrs Aylott said: 'I think it is reasonable to conclude that I was crying out for help, possibly throughout 2018, but certainly from 19 or 20 September 2018.

'It led to a much more severe breakdown, and a vulnerability that I do not think I can fully recover from.

'By the time I was finally referred to occupational health (OH) I had severe depressive illness with anxiety and panic attacks, with thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation and drinking heavily.

'If I had received OH support earlier, I could have recovered quietly, as I wished to do, and returned to BPP, so there is a direct correlation between the lack of OH support and my financial and career status now.'

Judge Adkin said: 'The claimant said that she had suffered a breakdown, felt overloaded and could no longer cope. 

'She mentioned being a widow and raising two children. Mr Shaw suggested that her feelings of stress were based on her perception.

'Mr Shaw was plainly of the view that managers working in excess of contractual hours was "normal". 

'He also seemed to be of the view that the claimant was experienced enough to manage her workload.'

The judge said BPP should have referred Mrs Aylott to obtain Occupational Health advice but 'Mr Shaw did not want to... nor to make adjustments... and instead was focused on terminating the claimant's employment by means of a settlement agreement.'

Mrs Aylott added: 'I believe I was treated differently because my issue was a mental health issue... I was relying on alcohol to support me.'

She successfully sued the university, which specialises in different fields including law and business, for disability discrimination and constructive unfair dismissal.

At the conclusion of the remedy hearing, Judge Adkin said the £168,047 Mrs Aylott had been awarded was subject to taxation and invited the parties to agree an amount.

He said if that was not possible a further hearing would be held in due course. 

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