Police discriminated against officer with hearing impairment

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has upheld a decision that a police officer was discriminated against due to assumptions about her hearing impairment.

The officer wanted to transfer to Norfolk, but her application was rejected by the Acting Chief Inspector, who said her hearing was not up to the medical standard required to perform front-line duties.

She accepted that she suffered from an impairment but said it didn’t interfere with her ability to do her job. It was common ground that it did not constitute a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.

The Employment Tribunal ruled in her favour.

It held that she had been subjected to direct discrimination due to the inspector’s perception that she was disabled. 

The chief constable of Norfolk then took the case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

He argued that the judge had wrongly classed the officer’s responsibilities as being “day to day activities” when the requirements of a front-line officer should be classed as “specialised activities”.  

The officer disagreed and said the acting chief inspector had wrongly perceived that her impairment would prevent her from carrying out her role.

The EAT ruled in favour of the officer.

It held that there was no evidence that front-line officers needed peculiarly acute hearing. Though unique, challenging and sometimes dangerous, police work activities were, for the purposes of the Act, “normal day-to-day activities”.

There was also no evidence that the officer’s impairment would have a negative impact on her ability to carry out her front-line police work.

Treating a front-line police officer less favourably based on a stereotypical assumption that her hearing impairment, while not currently having an adverse effect on her duties, might do so in future amounted to direct discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 s.13.

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