Every so often a UK Employment Tribunal case is so newsworthy that it is reported beyond legal/HR circles and makes the national press. The case of two firearms officers with hands too small for their guns was a case that even The Telegraph could not resist reporting.

Ms Wheatley and Ms Giles were (and possibly still are) firearms officers working for the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC).  All such officers are required to undertake annual tests of their shooting ability and continued failure at the assessment can ultimately lead to dismissal. Wheatley and Giles had been unable to reach the trigger of the Glock 17 pistol provided for the training shoots because of their small hands.  Despite repeatedly requesting smaller grips, no action was taken by the trainers. The Claimants therefore brought a claim on the grounds of indirect sex discrimination. 

Indirect sex discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) which is applied to both sexes puts or would put persons of one sex at a particular unjustifiable disadvantage and the claimant is put at that disadvantage. Whilst the article in The Telegraph does not go into detail in relation to the claim (and I have not seen a copy of the judgment), it is likely that Wheatley and Giles argued that the PCP was the use of the Glock 17 guns for the annual training assessments. Both male and female officers are provided with the same pistol but the female officers (likely to have smaller hands than their male counterparts) are likely to be at a particular disadvantage as they would struggle to use the guns as accurately and therefore would do less well in the assessment.

At the Tribunal, the two officers were described as being “petite in stature”, perhaps suggesting that they were smaller than the average female officer and that this PCP did not put all female officers at a disadvantage but only a very select group of petite females.  However, indirect sex discrimination is not purely a numbers exercise and it is not therefore necessary to show that the majority of female officers are placed at that disadvantage. 

It is understood that CNC is planning to appeal the decision.  Stressing that I am speculating here, let us assume that the subject of the appeal is the extent to which the PCP of using the Glock 17 for the assessments is justifiable.  Put shortly, should the smaller officer be provided with a smaller gun?   If you have 5 spare minutes and a reasonably relaxed internet access policy, might I refer you to the Glock 17 website, a frankly terrifying mix of death and high fashion.  Here one sees that the gun is “designed for professionals” (as opposed to?) and is the “most widely-used law enforcement pistol in the world”.   No criticism can attach to the CNC’s choice in that respect, obviously.   We note also that one of the 17’s selling points is its standard high-capacity magazine, this fitting within the grip and therefore dictating its size.  Further research indicates no option for a smaller grip for the 17 – the “Glock Girl” Accessories page (no, really) contains only Glock-logo’d tee-shirts, hats and hoodies.

So perhaps the issue is this – if the standard and only weapon of the CNC is the Glock 17, it must be justifiable to require that those carrying it can use it effectively.  However, if Wheatley and Giles’ daily weapon is one of the smaller Glocks (“for women who require equal stopping power”) but they are assessed using something bigger, that would be much more difficult for the CNC to justify.