Stress ruled a disability in Amnesty International tribunal

A woman who was dismissed from her job as a senior campaigner for Amnesty International has won the first stage of an employment tribunal, allowing her to pursue a claim that stress she endured constituted a disability which her employer should have made allowances for.

Aisha Jung was dismissed in May 2022 after claiming she suffered stress and anxiety for blowing the whistle on Amnesty International designating of Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader, the status of prisoner of conscience (PoC) - thereby advocating for his release from prison

The decision was made despite allegations of hate speech by Navalny against Muslims.

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Jung is pursuing a claim against the human rights organisation for whistleblowing detriment and automatic unfair dismissal, religious discrimination, including harassment, direct discrimination, and victimisation, alongside disability discrimination and unfair dismissal.

To be able to pursue her claim for suffering from stress and anxiety due to disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, she first needed to be judged whether she had a disability or not – which this hearing sought to establish.

In considering the case, employment Judge Havard rejected Amnesty’s position and found that Jung’s current condition does amount to a disability.

In summing up he said: “I am satisfied that the decision to reinstate Alexei Navalny PoC status had a profound effect upon the claimant, who alleged that the decision was taken by [Amnesty International] despite what she described as Alexei Navalny's, ‘advocacy of racist violence towards Muslims’.

 “I accept the description provided by the claimant and her husband of the affects that her diagnosed condition of stress and anxiety has had since May 2021, and continues to have, on her day-to-day life and activities.”

Speaking to HR magazine Zillur Rahman, partner at Rahman Lowe Solicitors, who represented Jung, said the decision to deem the stress she went through as having created a disability is potentially significant for other employers.

He said: “The judge has effectively determined that Ms Jung’s disability had been caused by the stress and anxiety that she faced while working for an organisation she had previously been dedicated to.

“He agreed that the decision Amnesty took over Navalny had a significant impact on her, and that Amnesty had stonewalled her by ignoring her protests.”

In its defence Amnesty had claimed Jung suffered from an ‘adverse life event’, and that any subsequent effect from that event, could not be considered to be a mental impairment/disability.

Rahman said that in rejecting this, the judge made a potentially significant decision.

He said: “While we won't necessarily see the floodgates being opened by other people claiming stress has now given them a disability, the decision does suggest that someone perfectly well before a stressful event can be rendered disabled afterwards. The test for disability remains the same – that someone must now have a condition that is long-term and/or recurring, and impacts on their ability to carry out day to day activities.

“Now that a disability has been established, we are now looking at whether there is rise to pursue a personal injury claim too – because Ms Jung did not have a pre-existing condition that she now suffers from.”

The successful judgment means Ms Jung can continue with her claim for disability discrimination along with her other grievances. She can also pursue her claim that Amnesty failed to provide any reasonable adjustments before deciding to terminate her employment on 9 May 2022.

Amnesty International was contacted by HR magazine for comment.

In October 2020 independent consultancy, Howlett Brown, published a report that observed Amnesty International “has a culture of white privilege.”

In June 2022 an independent review by Global HBO also found that Amnesty International UK is ‘colonialist and institutionally racist’. It found that racial discrimination and bullying was endemic in the charity.