When Matthew Furlong, 25, tried to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the Cheshire Police, he likely never expected to be denied a position because he’s a white, straight male.
Furlong’s father, Liam, couldn’t believe it when his son was denied a position due to the Equality Act. Positive action provisions within the act make it harder to hire people like Matthew Furlong as a way for police to hire more minorities. The provisions were an answer to complaints about a lack of black people on the force.
Liam Furlong made official complaints about the decision not to hire his son and the case was presented before a tribunal. Furlong ended up winning with the tribunal determining that he was discriminated against over his skin color and sexual orientation.
The “positive action” provisions can only be used in a tie-break situation where two equally qualified candidates are up for the same position, ruled the tribunal. In other words, if a black person and a white person are both up for the same position and are equally qualified, the black man would be hired.
This did not happen in the case of Matthew Furlong, who one could argue was very qualified for the position. The 25-year-old has a degree in particle physics and cosmology from Lancaster University.
Furlong also reportedly did very well in his initial tests and interviews.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Furlong said he believes in diversity, but discrimination is not a solution to creating more diversity in police.
“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,” he said, according to the Manchester Evening News. Furlong said that if he had lied on his application and said he was of a different sexual orientation, he believes he would have been hired.
This whole experience has “completely shattered” Furlong’s faith in the police recruitment process.
Julie Cooke, Deputy Chief Constable of Cheshire police, released a public statement indicating there will be no official pushback against the tribunal ruling in Furlong’s favor.
“We accept the findings of the tribunal and have looked very carefully at our entire recruitment practice. Action has been taken to change some of our processes and take account of the hearing’s result,” she said.
Cooke made clear that the standards for recruits have not been lowered, but that’s a hard position to defend after the tribunal ruling. After all, if the positive action provisions didn’t lower standards then what reason was there to deny a qualified candidate like Furlong?
This is not the first time England’s police officials have been under the microscope for injecting politics into the police recruitment process.
Sara Thornton, the head of Britain’s National Police Chiefs’ Council, suggested in February that police officials should be able to legally discriminate against white recruits for a time period to help boost diversity in the ranks. She called the wildly controversial suggestion a potential “shock to the system.”
As for Furlong, his settlement requires that he comment no further on the discrimination case, but he will begin work as a police officer soon.
“We are pleased to confirm that settlement terms have been agreed with Cheshire Constabulary and as of 14 September 2019, Matthew will be starting work as a student police officer with the force,” Jennifer Ainscough, Furlong’s lawyer, announced after the tribunal’s ruling.
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