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Ex-social work boss takes council to tribunal over discrimination

Norfolk County Council's former social work head has taken the council to an employment tribunal. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Norfolk County Council's former social work head has taken the council to an employment tribunal. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

A former head of social work alleges she was “pressurised” into resigning after the council failed to make adjustments for her illness.

Donna Ashdown has now taken Norfolk County Council to tribunal for disability discrimination.

Bringing a claim of constructive dismissal, the council’s former head of social care in south Norfolk said she had to work up to 70 hours a week.

Mrs Ashdown, from Bunwell, was treated for cancer in 2001 and suffers from a condition called Lymphoedema.

It means she has swellings in her arm and can not drive long distances. She also suffers from fatigue.

When she was promoted to head of social work in late December 2015 she soon went off sick with stress. “My body crashed,” she told the tribunal on Monday.

She talked to her manager about ways to make the job more manageable.

But by May 2016 nothing had changed and she resigned.

Mrs Ashdown she said she felt “pressurised” to resign and understood she would be offered a more suitable role by the council.

But the jobs she was offered involved lots of driving - something she can not do because of her Lymphoedema.

She accused the council of failing to make reasonable adjustments for her condition.

Andrew Brett, representing Norfolk County Council, questioned why she did not reduce her hours from 70 a week.

At the time, the council’s children’s services department was rated as “inadequate” by watchdog Ofsted, and Mrs Ashdown said they staff were under lots of pressure.

“The demands coming down from the director and assistant director set the hours,” she said.

“The bare minimum hours were just not achievable for any of us.”

When she resigned, she wanted to take up a job similar to her previous role as independent chair of child protection conferences in south Norfolk.

Her previous colleague described her as the “best chair” and in her witness statement, Mrs Ashdown said there was lots of work for independent chairs in Norwich and south Norfolk.

But instead the council offered her jobs in Great Yarmouth and Breckland - roles she felt she could not do because of the amount of driving.

The tribunal continues.


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