Bristol University

Failure to make reasonable adjustments – University to pay over student’s death

Failure to make reasonable adjustments – University to pay over student’s death

Last week the Bristol County Court found that the University of Bristol had indirectly discriminated against a student, Natasha Abrahart, in it’s failure to make reasonable adjustments.

Natasha was a promising physics undergraduate who was found dead in April 2018, the day before she was due to give a presentation to students and staff.

Her parents argued that the University had breached the Equality Act 2010 after the failure to make reasonable adjustments to the practice which required students to undertake oral assessments.  Medical experts confirmed that the primary stressor and cause of Natasha’s depressive illness was the requirement to undertake an oral assessment.

The parents secured damages from the University of £50,518 as the institution’s failure to make reasonable adjustments compensation and to cover funeral costs. Little comfort for the bereaved, but a reminder that Universities and other educational establishments will be held liable should they disregard the needs of their disabled students.

Universities and educational establishments need to review their policies and practices to ensure they are fit for purpose and do not disadvantage any particular groups, including those with disabilities. In so doing, the needs of those with mental health issues, often invisible disabilities should not be overlooked, so they too can thrive and reach their true potential.

Sadly, this case is not unique.  Mental health issues amongst students and young people generally continue to increase. At didlaw we receive inquiries from disabled students who feel their needs are not being met and who are suffering both academically, physically, and mentally as a result.  Ms. Abrahart is reported to be just one of eleven students at Bristol University reported to have taken their own life between 2016 and 2018. That is not to suggest the University was liable for any of those deaths.  But it is a stark reminder that mental health issues are real and serious, and carry potentially devastating consequences should their concerns and needs be overlooked.

The University is reported to be reviewing the judgment carefully including whether or not to appeal.

This blog was written by Kate Lea, Senior Solicitor at didlaw.