David Stephenson acted for the successful claimant, Bruce Shields, who was removed from firearms duties after failing to meet a new hearing test.
Mr Shields had many years of distinguished service as a police constable who was authorised to carry firearms (‘AFO’). Throughout his AFO service, he suffered from high frequency hearing loss in his right ear, having been diagnosed as partially deaf in 1998 after an ear infection. There was no evidence or indication that his hearing loss had ever caused an operational difficulty or issue. His commitment and service record were excellent and he had won a commendation. In 2013, the College of Policing introduced a training curriculum for firearms officers with prescribed standards for eyesight and for maximum hearing loss, and required annual testing. Mr Shields underwent a hearing test in May 2014, when it was found that his high frequency hearing loss in his right ear exceeded the maximum permissible for an AFO. He was immediately removed from firearms duties, and in October 2014, his licence to carry firearms was revoked by the Respondent. Mr Shields brought a claim for disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
The Employment Tribunal found that the Respondent discriminated against him by failing to make reasonable adjustments in failing to undertake a functional test of his hearing ability. It concluded that there was a functional hearing test available which was objective, repeatable and conducted under the controlled condition of an audio booth which included hearing commands against a chaotic noisy background. The ET found that the Respondent made the mistake of seeking to achieve everything, rather than starting with what was reasonably possible, and found there was an inherent difficulty with the Respondent’s approach in relying on the predicted destination of a route which was not taken.