A mental illness is a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the employment appeal tribunal has held in a landmark decision (News, page 5, 29 October).

The ruling confirms that employees sacked or otherwise treated less favourably because of mental health problems can bring tribunal claims under the act. And as with sex and race discrimination claims, there is no limit on awards. If a sacked employee looks unlikely to get another job, awards can exceed£300,000.

The government plans to set up a disability rights commission which, like the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality, is likely to back test cases.

The tribunal reversed the finding of an industrial tribunal that Matthew Goodwin, with paranoid schizophrenia, was not disabled because his physical ability to do the job was not affected by his condition.

The case will now go back to a fresh employment tribunal - the new name for industrial tribunals - to decide whether his employer, the Patent Office in Wales, was justified in sacking him.

Dr Goodwin joined the office as a patent examiner in 1996.

Shortly after he started, his condition worsened and he needed time off for treatment.

His psychiatrist advised the Patent Office that he had recovered and was fit to return to work. But he was dismissed and was unemployed for more than a year.