A FRODSHAM man who applied to join Cheshire Police but was turned down because he was a white heterosexual male without disability has successfully lodged a discrimination claim against the force.
In a landmark case, believed to be the first of its kind, an employment tribunal at Liverpool, ruled that Matthew Furlong’s claim under Section 13 of the Equality Act 2010 on the grounds of sexual orientation, race and sex was well founded and successful.
The hearing lasted four days at the end of which the Tribunal concluded that Mr Furlong, 25, would have succeeded in his application and been appointed a police constable had Cheshire Police not applied positive action at the interview stage because they wanted to recruit more people from ethnic minorities or who were gay, transgender or disabled.
Mr Furlong’s father, Detective Inspector Liam Furlong, is a member of the force and raised the complaint of discrimination on his son’s behalf.
The tribunal was told that Matthew Furlong applied to become a police officer in September 2017 and was shortlisted the following month. He attended the Police Assessment Centre and was notified that he had passed and would be invited to an in Force interview.
He was successful at the interview but was later told that despite his pass at interview stage he had been unsuccessful as there were not enough vacancies for all who had passed.
Judge Clare Grundy, in her judgement, said the then Acting Chief Constable, Janette McCormick, who gave evidence at the hearing, believed passionately about positive action and a diverse police force.
ìShe is clearly a trailblazer who feels strongly that the force requires some significant change, she said.
The judge found that the interview pass threshold had been set artificially low and candidates were awarded a simple pass or fail, which meant substantial numbers were deemed equal when in reality some were much better than others.
The force did this so it could appoint officers from minority groups ahead of the best scoring applicants.
Cheshire Police could be ordered to pay Mr Furlong damages at a remedy hearing yet to be held.
In a statement, Matthew Furlong said: ìMy dad has served more than 20 years with Cheshire Police and I had always wanted to follow in his footsteps, ever since school. Not just anywhere but in the place I grew up.
”The people who interviewed me said it was refreshing to meet someone so well-prepared and that I couldn’t have done more. I was on cloud nine.
”When I found out what had happened, I was shocked I really didn’t know what to make of it because I automatically assumed a body like the police couldn’t possibly have made that kind of mistake.
‘It has completely shattered my confidence in the police force recruitment system.
‘The irony of the whole thing is that throughout the whole process I was required to demonstrate my honesty and integrity and they have completely undermined that. Had I lied on my interview form and said I was bisexual, for instance, there is a strong possibility I would be working for Cheshire Police now based on a lie.
‘I absolutely agree that a force should represent the equality and diversity of the community it serves but that must be achieved legitimately and without discriminating against anyone. It felt to me like this was putting a sticky plaster over the problem rather than addressing the root cause. It was a step too far and ultimately was a disproportionate response to the underlying issues.
‘I am not the only person who has been affected by this. There are many other white heterosexual males who undoubtedly left the whole interview process with the impression that they weren’t good enough when in fact many were. In addition, I worry for the candidates who have been appointed as they may question whether they were appointed based on merit or whether they simply has a particular protected characteristic.
‘I am delighted that the tribunal found in my favour and I hope it will prevent the same thing from happening again, but I donít know what I want to do now. If I applied again and did get in I would worry that the same issues could arise if I went for a promotion. It has certainly made it very difficult for me to continue down that path.’
Jennifer Ainscough, an employment lawyer at Mr Furlong’s solicitors, Slater and Gordon, said: ìMatthew was denied his dream job simply because he was a white, heterosexual male.
‘This is the first reported case of its kind in the UK where positive action has been used in a discriminatory way. Matthew’s courage in pursuing this will hopefully ensure it is the last.
‘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.
‘Positive action is an important tool to support a diverse workforce that reflects the community in which we live. 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.
‘This is an incredibly important ruling and something all employers need to be aware of in the future when using positive action.
‘They must be prepared to show that their recruitment process is lawful or risk leaving themselves open to similar claims, in which this case would almost certainly be relied upon.’
A spokesperson for Cheshire Police said: “We have been notified of the outcome of the tribunal and will review the findings.”