A cancer-suffering cafe worker who was fired for taking too much sick leave has won a landmark discrimination case .
Christine Lofty, 55, was sacked in the street by her boss after she she was diagnosed with pre-cancerous ‘lentigo malignia’ on her face.
The grandmother-of-six was off work for around ten months while she underwent a number of procedures to save her life and stop the disease spreading.
But 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 Christine’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.
Christine, 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."
Christine worked at a cafe used by First bus drivers – but not operated by the company – in Norwich, Norfolk, for 14 years, 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.
Christine, from Norwich, Norfolk, asked trade union Unite to take on her case for unfair dismissal and discrimination arising from disability – as the pre-cancer cells amounted to having cancer which is considered a disability.
An employment tribunal was held in October 2016 and while Christine 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 Christine was considered cancer free by September 2015 following successful early treatment, she had never had cancer.
Unite appealed the case to the employment appeals tribunal (EAT) in January 2017, before it was heard in January of this year.
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 Christine’s claim for disability discrimination.
Christine, 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.
"This means that employers should be taking positive steps to make reasonable adjustments, as well as not discriminating by dismissal.
"The fact that this case went to an employment appeal tribunal means it is legally binding and can now be used in similar cases.
"Unite could not let this case drop as we had to ensure we won justice for victims of cancer.
"This was an extremely complicated case and without the support of Unite Legal Services, our member would not have received the legal redress for the discrimination that she suffered.
"Unite would like to place on record our thanks to Thompsons Solicitors for the advice and representation given to our member in this matter. Thompsons stand shoulder to shoulder with the trade union movement and have once again shown themselves to be experts in their field."
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