In a landmark case, a potential police recruit has successfully sued his local constabulary after being discriminated against for being a white heterosexual male.
An employment tribunal ruled that the police force had discriminated against the 25 year-old on the grounds of sexual orientation, race and sex, by overlooking him, in favour of candidates who would boost the diversity of its workforce.
A perfect candidate
Matthew Furlong was keen to follow in his father’s footsteps and join Cheshire Police in the north east of England in 2007.
He was confident of securing the job after being told during his interview that: “it was refreshing to meet someone as well prepared as yourself” and that he “could not have done anymore”.
So he was shocked to subsequently learn that he had missed out on a position in favour of other applicants.
Mr Furlong’s furious father, a detective inspector on the force, lodged a formal complaint – which was eventually heard by an employment tribunal.
First case of its kind
The law firm representing Mr Furlong said it was the first reported case of its kind in the United Kingdom.
“Matthew was denied his dream job simply because he was a white, heterosexual male,” Slater and Gordon employment specialist Jennifer Ainscough said.
“Had he not been such an exceptional candidate he may not even have suspected anything was wrong and this unlawful and unacceptable selection process may have been allowed to continue.”
After four days of evidence, the tribunal in Liverpool ruled that Cheshire Police had discriminated against Mr Furlong by using positive action in a discriminatory way in a bid to boost diversity among its ranks.
It found that while positive action can be used to ensure greater diversity, it should only be applied to distinguish between candidates who were all equally well qualified for a role.
The tribunal described the force’s claim it had interviewed 127 candidates who were all equally suitable for the role as a “fallacy”.
“Positive action is an important tool to support a diverse workforce that reflects the community in which we live,” Ms Ainscough said.
“However it must be applied lawfully to ensure the highest calibre of candidates are recruited regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation and to ensure standards in police forces are maintained to properly protect our society.”
Cheshire Police used to be ‘too white’
Cheshire Police has been under pressure to improve employment opportunities for black, Asian and minority candidates, after it was harshly criticised three years ago for having no black officers.
In response to the tribunal’s ruling, a spokesperson for Cheshire Police said: “We have been notified of the outcome of the tribunal and will review the findings over the coming days.”
The amount of compensation Mr Furlong will receive will be determined at a hearing later in the year.
Discrimination unlawful in Australia
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Discrimination Claims, said that in Australia, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone based on an attribute like their race, sex or sexual orientation.
“Normally, it is women and people of colour and other minority groups who experience discrimination, so that’s what makes this case so unusual,” he said.
“But the same rules apply to everybody – so if you are treated less favourably simply because you are white, heterosexual and male, then you can rightly claim you have suffered discrimination, which the young want-to-be policeman did in this case,” he said.
“The law is clear – employers cannot advertise or refuse to recruit someone based on their race or sex – even if they want to try and diversify their workforce.”
If you have experienced discrimination based on your race, sex and sexual orientation, you may be entitled to compensation.
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