Poland Syndrome Support

Poland Syndrome | Court Case

During our web research we came across a court case about a man who had Poland Syndrome. His case is laid out below (credit to Daniel Northall)

Hutchison 3G UK Ltd v Edwards UKEAT/0467/13/DM

The facts

Mr Edwards was employed as a Sales Associate at one of Three’s stores in Newcastle. He suffered from Poland syndrome: he had been born with his entire major left pectoral chest muscle missing, along with the sternal head on the left side of his chest and two ribs. It resulted in his having a noticeable asymmetry in the appearance of his chest.

Mr Edwards complained that he was caused embarrassment as a result of having to wear a new polo shirt at work. He also alleged that his manager then publically harassed him. The matter came before an employment tribunal to determine whether he was a disabled person within the meaning of s.6 of the Equality Act 2010.

The Tribunal found that the condition resulted in a severe disfigurement which of itself qualified Mr Edwards as a disabled person by virtue of Schedule 1 to the Act. The Tribunal also went on to find that the condition amounted to a physical impairment: it had a substantial adverse effect on normal day to day activities which was long term. The employer appealed both findings.

The judgment

In assessing the severity of a disfigurement, the Tribunal is entitled to take into account as a relevant factor the impact the disfigurement has on the Claimant; for example, the steps he takes to disguise the disfigurement from others.

The Tribunal had before it a description of the disfigurement from the Claimant himself and in a GP’s report. The Tribunal was not obliged to carry out its own visual examination of the Claimant or to inspect photographic evidence. It must be right that Tribunals display a degree of sensitivity in assessing the severity of disfigurement in cases where the Claimant has gone to lengths to conceal it.

The Tribunal’s finding that the disfigurement amounted to a physical impairment which had a substantial adverse effect on normal day to day activities was based on permissible findings of fact and it had due regard to the Claimant’s ability to undertake normal day to day activities.

Comment

This is a comparatively rare case of a deemed disability by virtue of a severe disfigurement. The decision is important because it confirms that the severity of a disfigurement is not simply a product of its physical appearance. The Tribunal is entitled to have regard to the effect the disfigurement has upon a Claimant’s daily life.

The judgment also suggests that the Tribunal’s assessment of the appearance of the disfigurement is not conclusive, nor even important, provided the nature of the disfigurement is adequately evidenced from other sources.

Of course, a disfigurement’s appearance is still significant in determining its severity. Mr Edwards’ daily life was affected only because of his perception of his chest’s appearance and the response it would provoke in others. His perception was reasonable based on his past experiences.

Credit for the article to Daniel Northall

Interesting case. Often the word “disability” in reference to Poland Syndrome is rejected by those who have it. The word itself in our present society brings with it an image of someone less able. In fact the term “less able bodied” has become an alternative. Difficult in the eyes of the law to take a case to court without using “disability” one would think. This case proves that is not entirely the case.

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One Response to “Poland Syndrome | Court Case”

  1. bridget says:

    Thanks for this article. I am 65 but my whole daily life has been affected because of my perception that the absence of my pectoral major and right breast and shorter right shoulder would be seen by others and I have spent a lifetime trying to conceal it. If only I had thought of myself as “disabled”, maybe I could have used this in a Tribunal against a forced redundancy which ended my career in 2005. But then I would have had to admit my condition which I never ever did in health declarations on application forms. No employer ever knew.However I am happily retired now.

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