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Norfolk Police lose Court of Appeal discrimination case with £25k payout

PUBLISHED: 07:36 27 June 2019 | UPDATED: 07:36 27 June 2019

Norfolk Police headquarters in Wymondham. Picture: Archant.

Norfolk Police headquarters in Wymondham. Picture: Archant.

Norfolk Police have lost a bid in the Court of Appeal to overturn the decision of an employment tribunal which found they discriminated against an officer with hearing loss.

The force was ordered to pay the claimant more than £25,000 in compensation after the tribunal found they rejected an application for transfer due to a perceived disability.

PC Lisa Coffey had been an officer in Norfolk Police from 1993 to 1997.

By 2013 she was a front line officer at Wiltshire Police and asked for a transfer to Norfolk for "family reasons".

She disclosed she had developed mild hearing loss and tinnitus, but had performed as a front line officer in Wiltshire with no problems.

Her application was turned down after a medical report stated her hearing was "just outside the standards for recruitment strictly speaking".

The Bury St Edmunds tribunal found in 2017 Norfolk Police wrongly believed PC Coffey would be a "liability to the force".

Her application was rejected by Acting Chief Inspector Hooper because her hearing was below recruitment standards.

She was not offered an 'at-work test', which had been recommended by the force medical adviser to test her suitability at work.

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In her evidence, ACI Hooper insisted she had not thought PC Coffey had a disability.

But she said due to "financial pressures" the force could not afford to recruit an officer who may be placed on restrictive duties in the future.

She said: "The force is being required to deliver public services with fewer officers than in previous years and this situation will worsen over the coming years.

"When making decisions on recruitment I had to be mindful that Norfolk and Suffolk constabulary already retain officers who have become permanently restricted and are not operationally deployable.

"This inevitably places pressure on those officers who are deployable."

She said recruitment outside national criteria could only be considered if the officer had "a specific skill the force could utilise".

The employment tribunal found there was no way of looking at the matter other than PC Coffey was "treated less favourably due to her perceived disability".

In his judgement at the Court of Appeal, which upheld the tribunal's ruling, Lord Justice Nicholas Underhill said: "There was no evidence before the tribunal, and it seems unlikely, that front-line officers need to have peculiarly acute hearing: they are not piano-tuners or audio engineers."

He added; "ACI Hooper was influenced in her decision by a stereotypical assumption about the effects of what she perceived to be the claimant's actual or future hearing loss."

Lord Justice Nigel Davis agreed with the judgement to dismiss the appeal.

"The claimant had performed entirely satisfactorily in a front line role in the Wiltshire Constabulary," he said. "The suggestion raised in evidence that front line duties in Norfolk were somehow different from those in Wiltshire was half-baked and properly rejected by the employment tribunal."

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