Deaf diplomat loses fight with Foreign Office over posting

Equality watchdogs have warned that disabled people face growing barriers in the workplace after a senior diplomat lost her discrimination claim against a Foreign Office refusal to send her abroad on the grounds her deafness made the posting too expensive.

Jane Cordell, 44, had a job offer to become Britain's deputy ambassador to Kazakhstan revoked by Whitehall after it was ruled that the £240,000 cost to the public of providing trained "lip speakers" could not be justified.

An employment tribunal will this week rule that the FCO was right to withdraw the posting on the grounds of cost after it was found that the bill to employ speech interpreters needed by Ms Cordell, who is profoundly deaf, amounted to five times her salary and was close to the combined salaries of all British staff at the embassy.

But the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said the ruling raised questions about whether it would be possible for Ms Cordell, who was praised for her previous work in Poland and earmarked for promotion, and others like her, to proceed as far as able-bodied people in their chosen careers.

In a copy of the ruling obtained by The Independent, the tribunal said it accepted its ruling would place "some limitations" on the types of posting that Ms Cordell might obtain but added that the cost of funding the support needed to allow her to do her job was "simply unreasonable".

The decision to withdraw her Kazakhstan job offer in January this year was based on legislation which obliges employers to make "reasonable adjustments", such as the funding of specialist equipment or assistance, to allow disabled staff to carry out their work.

A spokeswoman for the EHRC, which partly funded Ms Cordell's case, said: "The outcome is disappointing for Jane. It has left her career in a state of limbo as she has no clarity around what level of adjustments the FCO will fund – a decision which directly influences whether she can be posted abroad in the future. It is important that reasonable adjustments are provided to allow disabled people like Jane to realise their full potential."

In September the commission revealed that disabled people are less likely to gain access to the workplace, with only 50 per cent being employed compared to 79 per cent of able-bodied adults. The wage gap between disabled women and able-bodied men is 22 per cent.

The tribunal dismissed arguments that the cost of accommodating her deafness was being used unfairly to restrict her career when the FCO routinely pays out large sums for the private education of the children of diplomats posted abroad. The panel also dismissed claims that officials had been "bullying" in their communication with the Cambridge-educated diplomat.

Ms Cordell, who is currently employed in a desk role at the FCO in London, said: "I am proud of having brought this case to tribunal. People with disabilities and long-term illnesses who want to be economically active and independent need answers to the questions it posed."

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