Patricia Hewitt’s admission that she discriminated against a male job candidate highlights the importance of getting the hiring process right, according to the recruitment industry’s biggest lobbying group.
Former trade and industry secretary Hewitt, a long-time advocate of equality at work, admitted breaking the Sex Discrimination Act when she overruled advisers and appointed a woman to an influential job instead of a better-qualified male candidate.
Hewitt, now the health secretary, and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), were taken to the High Court by Malcolm Hanney. He was turned down for a £9,000-a-year position at the South West Regional Development Agency.
On 27 September, the court described the action as “unlawful sex discrimination”, and ruled against the DTI, it was announced last week.
Tom Hadley, director of external affairs at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said the case illustrated how vital it was to avoid discriminatory recruitment practices.
“Employers do not put enough time and effort into this key area and there is an urgent need to provide greater training for those involved in recruitment,” he said.
Hadley also said the case indicated that people were becoming acutely aware of their rights.
“It is crucial for companies to be aware of the regulations involved and to understand the risks of getting it wrong,” he warned.
Hanney used the Freedom of Information Act to access interview notes, which showed he was the strongest candidate. He said he had brought the case on principle, and was not seeking compensation.
The High Court ruled that the DTI should pay his legal costs of £17,967. The DTI apologised and said it had changed its processes to avoid any repetition of such an incident.