Dismissed MoD police officer won sexist fitness suit

An employment tribunal ruled in favor of a Ministry of Defence Police officer who was fired after failing a physical fitness examination.

It was determined that the Department of Defense indirectly discriminated against Koren Brown on the basis of her gender by denying her the opportunity to formally take an alternative test.

Ms. Brown stated that she had taken legal action to prevent this from happening again.

The Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) is a civilian force tasked with safeguarding sensitive sites throughout the United Kingdom.   

Koren Brown, a native of Dunblane, first considered joining the police during elementary school. She applied to the MoD force in 2015 and exclaimed that she was so happy when she was accepted.

All armed officers recruited after 2014 were required to achieve a score of 7.6 on a fitness test commonly known as the "bleep test." This entails participants running between two points at an increasing rate.

The court stated that biologically, women would find it harder to pass the test at a higher level than men.

Two expert witnesses agreed that females had smaller hearts and lungs, lesser muscular mass, and higher body fat, according to the study. At evaluation, Ms. Brown got 6.7% on the bleep exam. Still, she was sent to Scotland in April 2017.

The tribunal agreed with the MoD's claim that level 7.6 on the bleep test was comparable to a valid objective, but it also required proportionality in implementation. Ms. Brown consistently failed the 7.6 threshold, but the tribunal found that she was not given the "Chester treadmill test." The treadmill incline is gradually increased every two minutes while jogging.

As a familiarization exercise, she had been given a single opportunity to attempt it, but when she struggled to maintain her balance, she was not encouraged to persevere or given any direction. 

Ms. Brown was terminated in October of 2018. The 33-year-old woman claimed that the MoD Police abandoned her and stole her future. 

The tribunal determined that the MDP "indirectly discriminated against Ms. Brown on the basis of her gender" by denying her the opportunity to take an alternative exam and failing to provide her with the assistance recommended by the College of Policing.

The Defense Police Federation has supported Ms. Brown throughout. Its national chairman, Eamon Keating, told the sources that the decision was massively significant and that the force had lost a very valuable officer.

Mr. Keating stated that MoD police firearms officers were no longer required to complete the bleep exam, as it had been replaced by Institute of Naval Medicine-designed fitness tests.

Ms. Brown's attorney, Jillian Merchant, a partner at Thompsons Solicitors, stated that Ms. Brown's termination was unlawful and based on her gender. Prior to the dismissal, the MoD could have and should have taken certain measures, but it did not.

This case should serve as a cautionary tale for any police department or employer that implements a fitness standard without proportionality.

Employers instituting fitness standards should consider the biological and physiological differences between men and women and act accordingly, she said.