Elizabeth Boyle has spent almost 10 years fighting her case
A woman from Warrenpoint has made history in a landmark discrimination case in which the House of Lords clarified the UK’s Disability Law.
Elizabeth Boyle, who suffers from vocal nodules agreed the sum of £125,000 from her former employer, SCA Packaging Ltd.
Ms Boyle brought the case after the company changed her working environment which would have threatened her voice.
The ruling means more people with controlled, recurring conditions are covered by disability law.
It extends protection from discrimination to people with a range of health conditions where symptoms can be managed or may fluctuate.
This could include conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
Ms Boyle was employed by SCA Packaging Limited as a stock controller at their Warrenpoint factory.
She suffered from difficulties with her vocal chords from 1974.
Her condition required surgery, speech therapy and a strict management regime to ensure the problems did not recur.
This involved limiting the use of her voice, staggering telephone calls, avoiding dusty atmospheres, speaking quietly and reducing background noise.
At a time when Ms. Boyle was following her health management regime rigorously and was symptom free, her employer sought to remove a partition separating her office from a stock control room.
She believed that the increased noise levels would have a substantial adverse effect on her health.
In October 2001 she began proceedings under the Disability Discrimination Act alleging discrimination on grounds of her employer’s failure to make reasonable adjustments for her disability.
This has been a nine-year battle that caused so much stress to me and my family
In May 2002, after 33 years service, she was made redundant and, arising from this decision, she brought further proceedings alleging victimisation and unfair dismissal.
Her legal battle went as far as the Court of Appeal in Belfast before ending up in the House of Lords, then the UK’s highest court.
The Lords’ judgment, which upheld the Court of Appeal ruling, focused on circumstances where a worker’s medical condition is controlled or not current but could recur if the working environment changes.
Previously the law stated that an employer only had to make reasonable adjustments if the chance of recurrence was “more probable than not”.
This definition has now be altered so bosses need to take action if the return of the medical problem “could well happen”.
In effect this has lowered the legal threshold at which employers have a responsibility.
Speaking after the settlement, Ms Boyle said: “This has been a nine-year battle that caused so much stress to me and my family.
“However, because of the ruling made in my case, other disabled people can benefit too.”
The bulk of SCA Packaging’s operations in Ireland and the UK were sold off in 2008 and the Warrenpoint factory where Ms Boyle worked is now under new ownership.
A spokesman for the new owners – SAICA PACK – said they had no involvement in the case