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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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News: Mother loses dead son’s disability discrimination case against Amazon

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A mother has lost the disability discrimination case lodged against Amazon in a bid to fulfil the wish of her dying son, a former employee of the online retailer.

David Peregrine, who was only 36, launched his suit against the shopping web site after being sent home without pay from its Swansea, South Wales-based distribution warehouse due to back pain.
 
But before his grievance claim could come to court, he was diagnosed with cancer and died this February. His mother, Ann Peregrine-Davies promised him that she would take up the battle and appeared by herself in front of an employment tribunal in Cardiff yesterday, after having rejected any representation by a solicitor.
 
According to the Daily Mail, she argued that Amazon should not have kept her son away from work without pay while he was ill, not least because, after using up his paid sick leave, he had no other source of income.
 
“It was additional worry causing him stress at a time when he needed it least. It affected emotionally and financially. He was not allowed to go to work, not given any reason and not paid,” Peregrine-Davies said.
 
This meant that he felt forced to lodge a grievance with his employer in a desperate attempt to return to work, but the online giant took two months to deal with the situation, not helped by apparent problems in getting hold of his medical records. By that time, however, it was too late.
 
But on discovering that he had cancer, Peregrine asked his mother to pursue the case on his behalf. “He knew it was too late to help him, but he just hoped it might help others. That’s what has been driving me,” she said.
 
Act of desperation
 
The judge found Amazon not guilty of discrimination, however, because it was unaware of the nature of her son’s illness, although he criticised its behaviour in other ways.
 
Peregrine started working for the company via an agency in September 2008, but became a full-time member of staff in July 2009 when he was asked to fill in a questionnaire of any former medical issues.
 
The form was passed on to Amazon’s occupational health provider, Manor House Health Care Ltd, but when Peregrine started complaining of back problems in November 2009, the firm failed to inform his employer that he had previously suffered from cancer.
 
Employment judge, Roger Harper, said: “Manor House should have put two and two together and noticed a link between his history of cancer and the back pain he suffered. But Amazon could not have been expected to make the link themselves.”
 
The company has since changed its occupational health provider, but it also denied discriminating against Peregrine, saying that it could not allow him to work while he was in so much pain.
 
Nonetheless, the judge criticised the way that Amazon had handled the case, pointing out that Peregrine had issued a grievance as “an act of desperation” and made it “crystal clear” that he was “suffering physically, emotionally and financially”.
 
As a result, the retailer “would have been left in no doubt about the impact this was having on him”. The delay in obtaining his medical notes was “unacceptable” and the fact that he never received the results “inexcusable”. Instead Amazon should have considered putting Peregrine on full paid medical suspension.
 
His mother said: “I have now done everything that I could have in an attempt to get justice for my son. For me, it was still worth the fight if it serves to improve Amazon’s practices and prevents anyone else suffering unnecessarily.”
 
 
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett
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