A prospective HR manager has lost his race and sex discrimination case after he was told at his job interview the company wanted to hire ‘fewer white men’.
High-flying Chris Palmer was turned down from the £80,000 post at a financial services company after bosses highlighted concerns about his ‘arrogance’ and instead opted to hire a woman.
At an employment tribunal, Mr Palmer said his failure to get the job was based on his ethnicity and gender following the remark from managing director, Michael Jones, with the spurned jobseeker accusing the finance firm of ‘going through the motions’.
But, the panel dismissed his claims – which the hearing heard had been branded ‘absurd’ – ruling it was not ‘indicative of an intention to discriminate’ when an employer mentioned its aim to improve diversity in an underrepresented workforce.
Slamming down his claims, an employment judge said that although a firm may aspire to be ‘less dominated by white men’, it does not mean there’s an ‘intention to achieve that objective by discriminating in recruitment against white men and in favour of women or minority ethnic candidates’.
Mr Palmer was invited to a pre-screening interview in July 2021 at AIMS Markets, where he was asked to talk through his CV and experience.
The conversation was conducted on the phone while the candidate was on holiday, and several of his friends listened to the call, a hearing in central London was told.
‘Mr Jones told him that they had an objective of building and creating diversity,’ the tribunal heard. ‘He mentioned the ethnicity and sex of various existing employees.
‘According to [Mr Palmer] and his friends, Mr Jones referred to the company’s wish, desire or intention to hire “fewer white men”.’
Led by Mr Jones, his prospective employers thought Mr Palmer was a ‘serious candidate’ who should progress to the first interview, despite having a ‘couple of reservations’ about him.
The first interview was in August 2021, after which the three interviewers expressed their ‘doubts’. It was heard they felt he ‘talked a lot’, and were left wondering if he would be a ‘good listener’. They were also ‘concerned’ about his seniority and wage expectations, with court documents saying he had suggested a £100,000 salary.
In the internal hiring spreadsheet, one said there was an ‘arrogance we need to tease out’.
The tribunal heard there were two other candidates at this stage – who were both women – who were then also rejected.
A couple of weeks later, Mr Jones told Mr Palmer to tell him they ‘did not wish to proceed any further with him’.
The panel heard he said they had decided after ‘some deliberation’ to change the remit for the role and downgrade the level of seniority they were aiming for, as they were not ready for someone of his ‘calibre’ at that time.
In November 2021, Mr Palmer wrote to Mr Jones alleging sex discrimination and said his interviewers had been ‘going through the motions’.
Replying, Andrew Clover, CEO, said the ‘fewer white men’ comment had been ‘misconstrued’.
‘[Mr Jones] was referring to us being a diverse employer and pointing out that we don’t just hire one type of person, for example just white men, not to say we don’t want to hire white men,’ he wrote.
He insisted the gender or ethnicity of a candidate would ‘never’ be a factor in their decision making.
Mr Clover also pointed out that had they intended not to employ him, Mr Palmer wouldn’t have been interviewed twice.
The panel heard a woman had taken the job after being offered the role in September 2021. After starting legal action, Mr Palmer presented the company’s ‘new hires’ stats – showing they’d hired 22 men and 10 women since launching.
The panel heard he suggested since his job was advertised, they had started a process of hiring ‘fewer men’, which was then ‘reversed’ after becoming aware of his discrimination claim.