A WHEELCHAIR user was left feeling "rejected, degraded and humiliated" having been unfairly let go from her council job following disability discrimination, an employment tribunal has found.

Former policy and strategy boss Marlena O’Donnell, who is unable to walk due to a permanent neurological condition, missed out on a higher-ranked position at Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) in November 2016, despite another candidate being “less qualified” for the job.

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Following an April employment tribunal hearing, judges determined the employee did not receive a promotion "because of her disability.”

The tribunal’s findings, which were published in July, revealed concerns about one senior boss having a ‘generalised and negative view’ of disabled people’s attendance records following a comment he made claiming “disabled people often take sick leave” - a remark which could have played a part in bosses’ decision not to give the job to the "experienced and qualified" Ms O'Donnell, according to judges.

The decision not to promote Ms O'Donnell came shortly before WBC’s ‘21st Century Council’ restructure, in which 100 jobs were to be axed.

Shortly before having the first of two operations on her elbows, Ms O’Donnell was told her job was at risk of redundancy and consequently the employee asked bosses to incorporate her role into a higher-ranked post.

However, the effects of the surgery severely restricted her ability to complete the necessary application forms and according to the tribunal’s findings, Ms O’Donnell would take up to four hours to complete the council’s required paperwork.

Judges ruled the council failed to make reasonable adjustments to support the employee during this process.

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Having completed the forms, Ms O’Donnell was then told her application had been turned down due to a lack of evidence suggesting she could take up the post, despite judges finding the job "to have been a suitable role for her."

Instead, council bosses offered her a role two grades below the job she had applied for, and according to judges’ findings, the claimant was "very upset" at the offer and turned it down, leading to her feeling "rejected, degraded and humiliated".

Having considered evidence, judges ruled Ms O’Donnell was unfairly dismissed by the council as the employee was qualified for the job she had applied for.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by Ms O’Donnell following her departure found during phase one of the restructure, 43 per cent of disabled employees were let go by WBC compared to 10.5 per cent of all staff.

Judges also discovered that during her time at Wokingham Borough Council, Ms O’Donnell was faced instances of ‘direct disability discrimination’ having been subject to "substantial disadvantage" in the workplace.

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This meant on one occasion, following a fire drill, Ms O’Donnell was left in the building and was not evacuated because fire wardens were not aware they were responsible for assisting her.

Responding to the judges' decision, A WBC spokesperson told the News the authority was reviewing the tribunal report, and added: “The council is committed to its responsibilities to all staff and to ensuring equal opportunities in employment.

“It is also committed to ensuring a working environment free from all forms of discrimination and seeks to treat all staff with dignity and respect and is dedicated to ensuring a diverse workforce."

Ms O’Donnell and WBC will meet again in December to reach a settlement.

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