The Court of Appeal has confirmed it was unlawful for a police officer to be refused a transfer because of a mistaken perception that her disability would affect her future performance. The ruling found that the Acting Chief Inspector of Norwich (ACI Hooper) had rejected Ms. Coffey’s transfer application based on the assumption that her hearing loss would render her incapable of successfully undertaking front-line duties, despite her experience as a front-line police officer for two years in Wiltshire, without any adjustments to the role.

The Court concluded that ACI Hooper’s decision was significantly influenced by stereotypical assumptions about the progressive effects of hearing loss, rather than being based on the things that she thought Ms. Coffey capable of, the things Ms. Coffey had proved to be capable of, and the recommendations of medical advisers.

The above is illustrative of how the assumptions we make about people can have both far-reaching and legal implications. Recently, unconscious bias has become something of a hot topic as society recognises that even the seemingly innocuous assumptions we make about an individual can sometimes have greater impact than more obvious and purposeful acts of discrimination, especially when they occur in spheres of power such a politics, education, and employment.

Making the effort to recognise that our assumptions have significant influence over our decisions and behaviour – even if we aren’t always aware of this influence – is the first step in challenging a bias culture.

There are many steps a person with employment responsibility can take to minimise the impact of bias on their decisions, unconscious or otherwise:

1) Establish clear criteria before making employment decisions (hiring, promotion, transfer, compensation, etc.) so that bias is removed from the process, or is more easily recognisable when it exerts influence.

2) Scrutinise the criteria to determine whether it unintentionally excludes certain candidates who might well succeed in the role.

3) Train leadership and employees on awareness with an open dialogue, and enforce ongoing benchmarking against best practices.

4) Pair training with best practices such as joint interviews of applicants and requirements that the diversity of prospects is considered.

Lewis Silkin LLP offers a number of relevant courses through our Worksphere service, including a Diversity Training course for HR, and an Unconcious Bias course or e-course for managers.

To find out more information, please visit and take a look at our training services brochure.
For further information, please contact Koichiro Nakada – Head of Japan Business Group ( and Yoko Nakada - Senior Associate, Deputy Head of Japan Business Group (
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