Police forces must change the way they recruit dog handlers after a female officer won a landmark sex-discrimination case showing that the system was too “tough” for some women.
WPC Kim-Louise Carter was awarded £15,000 after failing a fitness test which involved a 10-mile run, then carrying a dog over a course before running with it a further 100 yards.
The employment tribunal was told how three forces – Gloucester, Avon & Somerset and Wiltshire – all used the same exam which resulted in many more men being recruited as dog handlers compared to women.
Although Judge Street, who presided over the hearing, demanded that the three forces must review their shared exam course, the ruling could affect other constabularies where women officers have struggled to complete an arduous fitness test.
Miss Carter, 31, told the tribunal sitting in Bristol that she became exhausted and unable to walk while trying to complete the uphill dog carrying section of the exam known as “The Long Walk” in wet and muddy conditions. The dog she was carrying, called Hulk and weighing 35kg, was considerably heavier than the dog she had had earlier, called Fizz.
She said: “One stage of the test included a tough 10 mile run and my legs felt like jelly. One dog I had to carry was 35kg and I became exhausted and my legs would not work.”
She added how she had “dug deep, real deep” to keep up with men who had moved at a faster pace, adding: “I could lift the dog but had nothing left to carry him. I just couldn’t get any momentum.”
She was withdrawn from the two-and-half hour fitness exam, ending her ambition to become a dog handler with in the Gloucestershire constabulary, where she remains a serving officer.
Miss Carter, who began her policing career as a community support officer in 2005 before becoming a constable in 2013, said the test favoured men more than women.
Lawyers for the three forces insisted that a key requirement for the job of dog handlers was being physically fit because they often track criminals over long periods of time in often across demanding terrains with the added challenge of a suspect resisting arrest when eventually caught.
The tribunal was told that women were under represented as dog handlers in all three police forces. Of 48 dog handlers in the Gloucestershire force, only four were women. Avon & Somerset had three women out of 24 handlers, while Wiltshire had four women among 12. The tribunal was told that there was a higher pass rate among men than women because women had different levels of strength and stamina than men and that the “qualifying situation” need to be reviewed.
The hearing took place over four days between October and November last year and the judges’ ruling was published this week.
It said the test of pace and stamina was more demanding for women than men. Meanwhile, the fitness test, which had the same pass mark for men and women, had proven more difficult for women to pass compared to men, a factor suggesting it was discriminating against women.
“Where a standard test had negative impacts on members of a protected group, here women, then it either needs to be changed or objectively justified, “ said the judge.
The judge agreed women were at particular disadvantage compared with men and awarded Miss Carter a total of £14,930 for indirect sex discrimination.
A spokesman for Gloucestershire police said the three forces were now reviewing the judges’ recommendations.