The Metropolitan Police has again lost a major discrimination claim brought against it by a serving officer. Akua Reindorf represented PC Lichters in his claim for direct sexual orientation discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
The Met's beleaguered Fairness at Work (FAW) grievance procedure was also criticised for failing to provide any mechanism by which a discrimination complaint can be upheld.
The Employment Tribunal found that PC Lichters was discriminated against over a period of six years, from the beginning of his appointment to the elite Dog Support Unit. He was subjected to disparaging and discriminatory comments directly connected to his sexual orientation by fellow officers, including being told by an Inspector that “we don’t want queers in the dog section” and being described as a “drama queen”.
On two occasions PC Lichters was referred by senior officers to the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards on suspicion of disciplinary and criminal offences.
On the first occasion, in 2008, his account of an incident in which his police puppy was injured in an attack by another dog was disbelieved. He was referred for investigation by a senior officer on the basis of a report which contained “embellishment”. At the same time, rumours circulated that “instead of how he stated the incident occurred, he had actually been having gay sex on Hampstead Heath and had neglected the puppy, which had been injured by being stabbed by a screwdriver”. The Met made no attempt to investigate or “stamp out” these rumours.
In 2010 PC Lichters was referred to DPS again after his dog bit a member of the public in the street. He was suspected of perverting the course of justice, and faced a full misconduct and criminal investigation. The Tribunal found that the initial investigation was disproportionate and was pursued on grounds of his sexual orientation.
The Tribunal also found that PC Lichters was subjected to overbearing supervision and was regarded with “mistrust, disbelief, dislike and suspicion throughout his time in the Unit when the evidence shows he was a hard-working and exemplary officer”. There was a “campaign to remove him” from the unit because of his sexuality.
The Tribunal found that the investigation undertaken into PC Lichters’ internal grievance under the FAW procedure was designed to damage his credibility as a reporter of discriminatory behaviour and that the resulting report was “essentially a cover up”. The report contained “highly inflammatory language and aspersions” against PC Lichters’ character, for example that he was a “pathological liar”. These statements were reproduced in the report “with little or no foundation and without reference to the evidence upon which they were based”.
The report was inappropriately disseminated to a wide audience, leading to the possibility that PC Lichters would be “vilified” by his colleagues. He was wrongly refused permission to appeal against it.
The Tribunal also observed that it is not possible for a complainant to bring a successful discrimination grievance under the Met’s Fairness At Work procedure. The written policy prohibits the FAW investigator from making “any assessment regarding discrimination”. However, in practice this means only that the FAW investigator must not make a finding that there was discrimination – he is entitled to report that he found no discrimination. In essence, therefore, the only possible outcome of a discrimination grievance is that it is not upheld.
Remedy is yet to be determined. PC Lichters will be seeking compensation for injury to feelings as well as recommendations relating to the manner in which the Met deals with complaints of discrimination.