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Sacked MoD Police officer wins sexist fitness case – BBC News



  • By Katie Hunter
  • BBC Scotland reporter

Image caption, Koren Brown was deployed by the MoD police in 2017

A Ministry of Defence Police officer who was sacked after failing a fitness test has won an employment tribunal.

It found the MoD indirectly discriminated against Koren Brown on the grounds of sex when she was not given the chance to formally take an alternative test.

Ms Brown said she had taken legal action in the hope this would not happen again.

The BBC understands the MoD is appealing.

The Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) is a civilian force responsible for protecting sensitive sites across the UK.

Koren Brown, originally from Dunblane, first thought about joining the police in primary school. In 2015 she applied to the MoD force and said she was “so happy” when she was successful.

The ‘bleep test’

All armed officers recruited after 2014 were required to reach level 7.6 in a fitness test commonly known as the “bleep test.” This involves participants running back and forth between two points at increasing speed.

The tribunal said it seemed clear that women would find it more difficult than men to pass the test at the higher level because of “innate biological reasons.”

It said there was a measure of agreement between two expert witnesses that those differences included lower average muscle mass, women having a higher percentage of body fat and smaller hearts and lungs.

Image caption, Koren Brown hopes the MoD will learn from the way she was treated

When Ms Brown was assessed she recorded 6.7 on the bleep test. She was nevertheless deployed to work at a Scottish site in April 2017.

The tribunal accepted the MoD’s argument that level 7.6 on the bleep test was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim but said the application of the test must also be proportionate.

Ms Brown repeatedly failed to meet the 7.6 level but the tribunal found she had not been given the opportunity to formally attempt a different test called the “Chester treadmill test”. This involves running on a treadmill while the gradient is increased every two minutes.

She had been given one chance to try it as a familiarisation exercise but when she struggled to balance she wasn’t encouraged to persevere, or given any guidance. The tribunal found no other means of reaching the equivalent of 7.6 on the bleep test were discussed.

Ms Brown was sacked in October 2018. The 33-year-old said her future was ripped from her and she felt abandoned by the MoD Police.

“Everyone at work was telling me ‘don’t worry, it won’t get to that, they won’t sack you’ and then it happened and I just kind of felt…it was horrible,” she said.

The tribunal concluded the MDP “indirectly discriminated against Ms Brown on the grounds of her sex…by not providing the claimant with the opportunity of taking an alternative test…and having failed to provide her with the assistance recommended” by the College of Policing.

A ‘very valuable officer’

Ms Brown was supported throughout by the Defence Police Federation. Its national chairman, Eamon Keating, told the BBC the decision was “massively significant” and the force had lost “a very valuable officer.”

“There were alternatives available but they were never carried out formally for her. It’s a real shame,” he said.

Mr Keating said MoD police firearms officers no longer needed to complete the bleep test and it had been replaced with fitness tests designed by the Institute of Naval Medicine.

The MoD would not comment on these changes.

Ms Brown said she wanted the MDP to learn from the way they treated her: “I just hope it never happens to anyone else. I hope people are given more help, more support and another chance really.

“The whole point of going through the tribunal was that I didn’t want it to happen to anyone else.”

Ms Brown’s solicitor, Jillian Merchant, partner at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Ms Brown’s dismissal was unlawful and discriminatory on the grounds of her sex. There were clear steps that the MoD could and should have taken prior to dismissal but failed to do so.

“This case should serve as a warning to any Police force, or employer, applying a fitness standard that it must be applied proportionately. Employers should be mindful of the biological and physiological differences between men and women when applying fitness standards and act accordingly,” she said.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “We note the verdict of the tribunal and it would be inappropriate to comment further on continuing legal proceedings.”

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