A police force which rejected a potential star recruit because he is a white heterosexual male has been found guilty of discrimination.
Matthew Furlong, 25, whose father is a serving detective inspector in Cheshire Police, had hoped to follow in his footsteps when he applied to join the force in 2017.
After making it through to the interview stage, he said he was told “it was refreshing to meet someone as well prepared as yourself” and that he “could not have done any more”.
But he was later told he had lost out to other candidates, leading his father to lodge a complaint.
This is the first reported case of its kind in the UK where positive action has been used in a discriminatory way.
Mr Furlong, who studied particle physics and cosmology at Lancaster University, has now won an employment tribunal case which found Cheshire Police discriminated against him on the grounds of sexual orientation, race and sex.
His lawyers say it is the first reported case of its kind in the UK, after the employment tribunal ruled that Cheshire Constabulary used positive action – where employers take steps to recruit certain groups of people with different characteristics – but in a discriminatory way.
Jennifer Ainscough, an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “Matthew 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 speaking out 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.”
The tribunal in Liverpool heard four days of evidence before reaching its conclusion, published earlier this month, that Mr Furlong had been a victim of direct discrimination on the grounds of his sexual orientation, race and sex.
It ruled that while positive action can be used to boost diversity, it should only be applied to distinguish between candidates who were all equally well qualified for a role.
The force’s claim it had seen 127 candidates who were equally suitable for the role of police constable was a “fallacy”, the tribunal ruled, and imposing such an artificially low threshold – assigning candidates a pass or fail rather than any kind of score – was not a proportionate response to addressing the force’s lack of diversity.
Cheshire Police was among a number of forces criticised in 2015 for having no black officers, but has since taken steps to improve opportunities for those with protected characteristics relating to BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) gender, sexual orientation and disability.
Its efforts have resulted in a number of national awards and recognition including being chosen to host the National Black Police Associations Conference in 2017.
The case has been adjourned until later this year for a remedy hearing to determine the amount of compensation to be awarded.
A spokesman for Cheshire Police said: “We have been notified of the outcome of the tribunal and will review the findings over the coming days.”