Terminating Student's University Course Not Disability Discrimination, Hong Kong Court Rules

Published date01 March 2022
Subject MatterEmployment and HR, Consumer Protection, Discrimination, Disability & Sexual Harassment, Education
Law FirmMayer Brown
AuthorMr Hong Tran

In C v The Chinese University of Hong Kong [2022] HKDC 77, the Hong Kong District Court (Court) dismissed claims of unlawful disability discrimination based on a university's discontinuance of a disabled student's studies. Although this case relates to a claim in the education field, the judgment provides important lessons for employers.


The claimant, C, was a part-time postgraduate student studying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (University). A University rule required a student to complete their programme within its "maximum study period" (MSP), which was four years in C's case, subject to any extension the University might grant in special cases.

After the MSP expired, C applied for a two-month extension on the grounds of her disabilities, namely depression and generalised anxiety disorder.

Refusing the extension, the University, wrote a "Termination Letter" to C saying that, since the four outstanding assignments were long overdue (for periods ranging from three years to three months), it was not convinced she would be able to finish them by the new deadline.

The Termination Letter also said "pressure to complete all these assignments in such a short period of time, considering your recent medical history, would also not be in your best interests as a student.". The University discontinued C's studies.

C claimed against the University under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) for:

  • Direct disability discrimination by discontinuing C's studies;
  • Indirect disability discrimination by applying the MSP rule to C;
  • Victimisation by discontinuing C's studies after she accused the University of disability discrimination;
  • Direct discrimination by delaying in registering her on some courses;
  • Disability harassment; and
  • Breach of the Code of Practice on Education (COPE) by failing to formulate anti-discrimination policies and grievance procedures etc.


The Court dismissed all the claims.

Regarding the discontinuance of C's studies, the University contended that direct and indirect discrimination are mutually exclusive. The Court said a claimant can claim for both in the same action as long as they can prove the facts for both. But the issue did not arise in this case because the two claims actually relied on different facts.

In relation to the claim of direct disability discrimination in discontinuing C's studies, the Court did not adopt the two-step approach in M v Secretary for Justice [2000] 2 HKLRD 298, namely, determining (a)...

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