Dementia-sufferer, 73, wins age discrimination case against Asda

Dementia-sufferer, 73, wins age discrimination case against Asda over claims she was ‘pushed out’ when boss asked if she wanted to retire after staff raised alarm about her ‘forgetfulness’

  • Joan Hutchinson, 75, worked for an Asda store in Deeside, Wales, for 20 years
  • She resigned on September 25, 2020, after feeling she was being ‘pushed out’
  • A tribunal heard her manager Stacey Weston-Laing asked if she wanted to retire
  • Mrs Hutchinson won her claims of age and disability discrimination at tribunal

An dementia-sufferer has won her age discrimination case against Asda after her boss asked if she wanted to retire and staff raised concern about her ‘forgetfulness’.

Joan Hutchinson, 75, worked in the George clothing department of the Asda store in Deeside, Wales, for 20 years before resigning on September 25, 2020.

Mrs Hutchinson, who was 73 at the time, resigned after her manager Stacey Weston-Laing made her feel she was being ‘pushed out of the business’ and ‘too old to be there’, a Cardiff employment tribunal heard.

Her colleagues had noticed her slowing down at work, becoming ‘flustered’ and losing her personal belongings, while on one occasion she walked to work as she couldn’t remember where the bus stop was.

But she refused to speak to the supermarket’s occupational health department or have her bosses speak to her family, the panel was told.

When she had to shield during the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, Ms Weston-Laing – who delivered shopping to her while she shielded – was found to have asked her if she wanted to retire, a ‘discriminatory’ question which the tribunal found upset her.

When Mrs Hutchinson returned to work at the supermarket, the tribunal was told that another colleague ‘violated her dignity’ by rummaging through her bag when she could not find her keys and bus pass.

Joan Hutchinson, 75, worked in the George clothing department of the Asda store in Deeside (pictured), Wales, for 20 years before resigning on September 25, 2020

The shop worker then resigned and took the retail giant to tribunal, where she won her claims of age and disability discrimination as well as constructive dismissal.

The tribunal heard that in around 2017, her son Chris Hutchinson noticed his mother was exhibiting symptoms of dementia. She did not receive a formal diagnosis for another three years.

Mrs Hutchinson had to give up driving after going the wrong way around a roundabout, while at work she was often ‘forgetful and confused’, the tribunal heard.

Stacey Weston-Laing, section leader of the George department, and some other colleagues became concerned about her ‘appearing confused, losing keys and forgetting things’.

The supermarket changed her hours so she did not have to drive in the dark, the tribunal heard.

On March 7, 2020, Mr Hutchinson spent the night with his mother in Buckley, North Wales, and noticed she was struggling to use certain items such as the iPad, television, microwave and oven.

When the first national lockdown was imposed later that month, Mrs Hutchinson had to leave work and shield in line with NHS guidance, which listed those aged over 70 as ‘vulnerable’.

Her manager Ms Weston-Laing brought her shopping while she isolated and said she would be happy to drop groceries off if she needed anything.

But Joanne Clitherow, Mrs Hutchinson’s daughter, told the tribunal her mother said Ms Weston-Laing had twice asked in lockdown if she wanted to retire during a phone conversation.

Mrs Hutchinson said ‘no’ and had been upset by the question because she felt they did not want her at Asda, the panel was told.

Mrs Hutchinson resigned after her manager made her feel she was being ‘pushed out of the business’, a Cardiff employment tribunal (pictured: Cardiff magistrates court) heard

Ms Weston-Laing told the tribunal it was Mrs Hutchinson who had initiated the subject as she was scared of coming back to work after watching the news, and wanted to know what would happen if she decided to retire.

But the tribunal found that it was Ms Weston-Laing who had raised the possibility of retirement ‘on more than one occasion’.

‘This may have been said in a well-meaning way but, nevertheless, we find that it was said,’ the tribunal said.

After shielding, it was agreed that Mrs Hutchinson would return to work on July 9, 2020.

But on her first day back, the tribunal heard Ms Weston-Laing became concerned as it took Mrs Hutchinson a while to get into her locker and she was ‘flustered’.

Mrs Hutchinson had to be reminded to observe social distancing, it took her longer to work stock and she was jittery trying to hang returns, the panel was told.

At the end of her shift, Mrs Hutchinson had difficulty finding her keys and bus pass, which were in her bag. 

Deputy store manager Wendy Jerram looked in her bag to help her to find her belongings.

Mrs Hutchinson later reported this to her daughter and said she was ‘upset that someone had rummaged in her bag’, the court heard.

The tribunal ruled that, while this was done ‘with the best intentions’ and Mrs Hutchinson was ‘grateful at the time’, it left her feeling ‘upset’.

Employment Judge Alison Frazer concluded that the act ‘violated her dignity’ and  ‘amounted to disability related harassment’.

She added: ‘The conduct was unwanted and it related to her condition as it was brought about by her memory impairment.’

The following day, there was a discussion about the incident, where Mrs Hutchinson became ‘upset and aggressive’ and said ‘she did not need help and that if she did need help she would ask for it’.

The shop worker resigned and took the retail giant to the tribunal, where she won her claims of age and disability discrimination as well as constructive dismissal (stock image)

Ms Weston-Laing asked her if she would speak to occupational health and she said: ‘I can’t do my job, I will leave’.

The tribunal heard that Mrs Hutchinson then walked out and was given a lift home by another colleague. She did not return to work and was signed off sick.

Mr Hutchinson raised a grievance on behalf of his mother about ‘an unsafe working environment’, ‘ongoing bullying and harassment’ and ‘asking [Mrs Hutchinson] to retire on numerous occasions’.

A grievance hearing took place on in August but the complaints were not upheld.

In September, Mr Hutchinson wrote a letter on behalf of his mother, resigning with immediate effect on the basis she had been discriminated on the grounds of her age and disability.

Upholding her claims, Judge Frazer said: ‘In our finding, given the background of [Mrs Hutchinson] having been asked to retire, we find that when [Asda] raised concerns with her this was unwanted and created a humiliating environment for her.

‘We find that this is something that would not have been raised with an employee who was not of retirement age in similar circumstances in terms of presenting medical symptoms.

‘We find, therefore, that the repeated mention of retirement to [her] as a possible option was direct age discrimination.

‘It made [Mrs Hutchinson] feel as though she was being pushed out of the business or that [Asda] felt she was too old to be there. 

‘On the basis that this was mentioned on more than one occasion we also find it amounted to age-related harassment.

‘It was unwanted conduct which violated [her] dignity.’ 

Mrs Hutchinson could be in line for compensation, but any potential pay out may be reduced as the tribunal noted that if she had carried on working at Asda it was likely she would have been fairly dismissed ‘for reasons of incapacity owing to the deterioration in her condition’.

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