The Supreme Court has ruled that the case of a woman who was refused permission to return to work after being paralysed from the waist down should be sent back to the Labour Court for reconsideration.

Allowing an appeal by Marie Daly, a former Special Needs Assistant at a Co Kerry school for children with special needs, the court ruled that when the Labour Court awarded her compensation, it had failed to fulfil its statutory duty because it did not record or evaluate significant and relevant evidence presented to it.

A trained nurse, Marie Daly worked as an SNA at the Nano Nagle School which educates children on the autistic spectrum and with mild to profound disabilities. 

Today's Supreme Court ruling states that in 2010, twelve years into her employment, she was paralysed from the waist down in an accident. Since then she has had to use a wheelchair.

After undergoing extensive rehabilitation, she tried to return to work but, following a process, the school board refused her permission to do so.

In 2013, Ms Daly claimed at the then Equality Tribunal that the school had unlawfully discriminated against her. She cited sections of the Employment Equality Act. But the Equality Officer determined that she was no longer fully competent and available to undertake the duties attached to the position.

But the Labour Court reversed the decision and awarded her €40,000 in compensation. It held that the school had failed to comply with Section 16, subsection 3 of the Act.

It ruled that the school had failed to consult with her when deciding on the question of making reasonable accommodation for her.

The judgment was upheld on points of law by the High Court but last January the Court of Appeal upheld the school's appeal against that decision. But Ms Daly appealed the judgment to the Supreme Court.

In a majority decision, four judges of the five-member court allowed her appeal and remitted the case to the Labour Court.

The four-to-one majority judgment, delivered by Mr Justice John McMenamin, ruled that when the Labour Court awarded the compensation it had failed to fulfil its statutory duty. He said there was no doubt that the court had not recorded or evaluated significant and relevant evidence which had been presented to it.

He added that it had omitted evidence given by an Occupational Therapist to the effect that Ms Daly was unable to perform any of the core functions of the SNA's job, that she could not work as an SNA in a reorganised environment and that the role could not be rearranged to accommodate her.

He said these matters should have been recorded and addressed by the Labour Court.

Turning to the application of the law and its interpretation by the Court of Appeal, Justice McMenamin rejected the Court of Appeal's use of the term "core duties" in its judgments, noting that no such distinction is to be found in the Employment Equality Act (1998  2011).

He said the Act identifies the mandatory primary duty of an employer is to take appropriate measures where needed in a particular case to enable a particular person to have access to, participate and advance in employment and to undergo training, unless these measures would impose a disproportionate burden.

In a dissenting judgment, Mr Justice Peter Charleton said it was not particularly useful to see disability as medical in nature. He said a person with a disability remains a person, an individual with human dignity who is required to be treated as such.

He said that if the school board had sat down with Ms Daly and discussed the specialist reports in the case, no case may ever have been taken.

Noting that, on the papers before the court, there was nothing whereby the genuineness of either party could be doubted, he said the Court of Appeal's order on the matter to set aside the Labour Court's determination and vacate the order of compensation should be upheld. 

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission welcomed today's ruling.

"Today’s Supreme Court ruling is progressive and will have a significant impact for Marie Daly and the many other people with disabilities across Ireland, whether remaining in work or seeking access to employment.

"The Commission, in our involvement in this case as amicus curiae, emphasised the connection between work and the dignity and freedom of the person, and the Supreme Court has today recognised the right of persons with a disability to be treated with respect for their inherent dignity.

"For employers, recruiters, people who are job hunting, and those already in employment this ruling bring significant clarity and a shared understanding of the positive duties to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities in the workplace."

Marie Daly has told RTÉ news that she is very pleased with today's result. In a text she said as the case was ongoing she had been advised not to comment further.