05 July 2019 #Employment
In the first perceived disability case to be heard by the Court of Appeal, the court has upheld the decision that a police officer with marginal hearing loss suffered direct discrimination when she was turned down for a transfer to the Norfolk Constabulary.
The case of Chief Constable of Norfolk v Coffey involved a claimant who had successfully worked as a police constable in the Wiltshire Constabulary, despite being diagnosed with bilateral mild sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus. The condition meant that the claimant’s hearing was marginally below the medical standard for police recruitment set by the Home Office but she was recruited on the basis that she passed a practical functionality test. She went on to perform frontline duties without needing any adjustments.
The Claimant’s request for a transfer to the Norfolk Constabulary was refused on the basis that employing someone whose hearing fell below the medical standard for police recruitment would risk increasing the pool of officers on restricted duties, putting pressure on staff and resources. The Claimant accepted that her condition was not a ‘disability’ under the Equality Act but claimed her request had been refused on the basis of an incorrect perception that she was disabled. Norfolk Constabulary’s refusal had been significantly influenced by a stereotypical assumption about the impact of this perceived disability on the claimant’s ability to perform the day to day activities of the role. This amounted to direct discrimination.
The case demonstrates the importance of undertaking sufficient investigation into the extent and actual impact of any potentially relevant medical conditions on a candidate’s ability to perform a role, rather than relying on general assumptions which may amount to discrimination.