A teenage cancer sufferer was sacked from his apprenticeship because his employers did not want to have to deal with a disabled staff member, an employment tribunal has heard.
Michael Ready is claiming unfair dismissal, discrimination under the Disability Act and breach of contract, although William and Tracey McManus, the husband and wife team who run Washington, Durham-based Angel Air North East Ltd, both deny all of the charges.
Ready was hired as a 17-year-old apprentice air conditioning and refrigeration engineer by Angel Air in May 2008 and studied one day a week for a level 2 NVQ at Northumberland College.
But in late 2009, he started suffering from coughing fits, weight loss, night sweats and tiredness and, in March 2010, discovered a lump in his neck. He was referred to a specialist and warned that his condition could be serious.
Only a few weeks later on 6 April, however, William McManus allegedly called Ready to a surprise meeting where he was issued with a second written warning and dismissed. The first written warning was issued in January 2010 after Ready inserted insulation into an air conditioning unit that subsequently dropped out.
In both instances, Ready attested that he was not invited to a formal meeting and was given no right to appeal. The McManus’ denied the claim, however, saying that they sent him letters inviting him to formal meetings and informing of his appeal rights but they did not arrive.
But two days after being sacked, Ready was told by a consultant that he was suffering from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Although he emailed his former bosses to inform them of the news and explain why his work may have suffered, he claimed that they refused to allow him to complete his apprenticeship, even though he had only a few months remaining.
The McManus’ blamed Ready’s dismissal on a “continued inability to concentrate and focus”, which they claimed was unrelated to his cancer symptoms.
But Ready said that he had no doubt that his sacking was because of his “disability of Hodgkin’s Lymphona cancer”. He had been suffering from symptoms for six months prior to his dismissal and his employer “were aware, or ought reasonably to have been aware, that my medical condition was sufficiently serious to constitute a disability”, he said.
“I believe the company took the opportunity to dismiss me, unfairly, before I was formally diagnosed with cancer in an attempt to avoid having to deal with me as a disabled employee,” Ready added.
But the McManus’ barrister Seamus Sweeney told the judging panel that the couple could not have known about Michael’s illness at the time of his dismissal. He was given the all-clear in late 2010 after undergoing six rounds of chemotherapy, according to the Newcastle Journal newspaper.