A grandmother suffering from cancer who was fired from her job for taking “too much” sick leave has won a landmark discrimination case.
Former cafe worker Christine Lofty, 55, from Norwich, Norfolk, was sacked in the street after her boss saw her in the street.
The grandmother-of-six was off work for about ten months after doctors discovered she had pre-cancerous “lentigo malignia” on her face, resulting in a number of surgeries.
After losing her job of 14 years, she took her employer, Sadek Hamis, to an employment tribunal, which wrongly adjudicated that “pre-cancer” meant “before cancer”.
However, an appeal based on evidence including a letter from Mrs Lofty’s GP found that “pre-cancer” is a medical term for cancer that is contained.
The hearing found in favour of Mrs Lofty and the legally-binding victory will ensure people suffering with pre-cancer will now be protected under the Equality Act.
Mrs Lofty, a mother-of-three, said: “It turned my world upside down, it was devastating.
“I felt as if I was doing a good job. I already had anxiety, it had altered my life.
“It’s been hard to move on because you want to see a light at the end of the tunnel but I’m determined to make sure justice has been done.”
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She worked at a cafe used by First bus drivers – but not operated by the company – in Norwich, serving drinks and snacks.
But in March 2015, she was diagnosed with cancer after a lesion was found on her face.
She needed biopsies, surgery and skin grafts and took sick leave to undergo potentially lifesaving treatment.
But while she was off, her boss saw her in the street and decided that she had taken too much sick leave – firing her in December 2015.
She asked trade union Unite to take on her case for unfair dismissal and discrimination arising from disability.
An employment tribunal was held in October 2016 and while Mrs Lofty won her claim for unfair dismissal, the claim for discrimination was dismissed as the tribunal wrongly disagreed that she was disabled.
They also argued that as she was considered cancer free by September 2015 following successful early treatment, she had never had cancer.
Unite appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) and the case was heard in January.
Judge Jennifer Eady QC ruled that if the tribunal had “engaged with the evidence before it, it would have been bound to hold that she had cancer and thus fell within the deeming provision securing the protection of the Equality Act 2010”.
The case will now be referred back to an employment tribunal which will decide on Mrs Lofty’s claim for disability discrimination.
Mrs Lofty, who lives with her husband Peter, 60, now works for corporate cleaning company Norse in Norwich.
Unite assistant general secretary for legal services, Howard Beckett, said: “This is a landmark case which will help ensure that employers cannot dismiss and discriminate against their workers who are suffering from any form of cancer.
“Workers who experience the anguish of developing cancer at work will be reassured that their employer can’t simply dismiss them because of their illness, as this is now clearly understood that all forms of cancer are legally protected.”