In a case that illustrates just how far discrimination legislation has come, the EAT has determined that a police officer was subjected to unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 on account of a disability she was perceived to have as opposed to a disability she actually did have.


The facts:

Lisa Coffey, a serving officer, brought a tribunal claim against Norfolk Constabulary after being refused a transfer on the basis that her hearing loss meant she would not meet the required recruiting standards. Although Ms Coffey was shown to have lost some hearing function during a number of tests, with it being just outside the recruiting standard, it was not serious enough to constitute a disability at the time. Furthermore, she had not required any adjustments to accommodate her hearing loss during her time as a front line officer at Wiltshire Constabulary. However, her transfer was rejected on the basis of Norfolk Constabulary’s perception that her hearing might have deteriorated further and thereby resulted in a requirement for reasonable adjustments to be made at a later point in time. Rejection of Ms Coffey’s transfer application on these grounds was found to be discriminatory by Norwich Employment Tribunal and this decision has now been upheld by the EAT on appeal.


The EAT stated:


“There would be a gap in the protection offered by equality law if an employer, wrongly perceiving that an employee’s impairment might well progress to the point where it affected his work substantially, could dismiss him in advance to avoid any duty to make allowances or adjustments.”


Learning Points:

Mark Booth, HR Consultant at EML, comments:


“Employers should be mindful of this judgement as it shows just how broad disability discrimination legislation actually is, with protection from discrimination relating to other perceived characteristics such as race and sexual orientation working in a similar way. Employers will need to keep this in mind when dealing with potential cases of disability and almost certainly when an employee is shown to be suffering with a progressively deteriorating condition. Furthermore, this case clearly illustrates how ignorance about disability in the context of discrimination legislation can risk significant legal exposure.” 


If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog further, please do not hesitate to contact one of our HR consultants. We supply not just commercially minded employment law advice and bespoke HR services, but a comprehensive employment tribunal representation service to our clients. Our experienced HR support consultants have defended thousands of claims over the years and will handle any claims you receive, ranging from straightforward unfair dismissals to complex discrimination cases.