In a recent employment tribunal case, a candidate’s claim of discrimination was dismissed after he alleged he was rejected from a financial services company position because he was a white man.

The tribunal ruled that expressing a desire to hire “fewer white men” does not constitute discrimination.

Chris Palmer, an applicant for an £80,000 head of HR position at AIMS Markets, claimed that his rejection was based on his ethnicity and gender.

Palmer cited comments made by Michael Jones, the managing director, during his job interview where Jones mentioned the company’s objective of building diversity and expressed a desire to hire “fewer white men.”

The tribunal, held in central London, heard that Mr. Palmer was initially considered a “serious candidate,” progressing to the first interview despite reservations from the prospective employers. Two other female candidates were also rejected at this stage.

Was it a case of sex discrimination?

Two weeks later, Mr. Jones informed Mr. Palmer that they did not wish to proceed further with his application. In response to Mr. Palmer’s allegations of sex discrimination, Andrew Clover, the CEO, clarified that the “fewer white men” comment had been misconstrued. He stated that the company aimed to be a diverse employer but insisted that gender and ethnicity would never be a factor in their decision-making process.

The tribunal panel, presided over by Judge Tamara Lewis, ultimately dismissed Mr. Palmer’s claims, stating that expressing a desire to achieve diversity in the workforce does not indicate an intention to discriminate against any specific group.

“Clearly something was said about this,” Judge Lewis acknowledged, adding, “We find that Mr. Jones indicated the company hoped to achieve a diverse workforce that did not exclusively comprise, for example, white men. Having listened to Mr. Jones as a witness, we suspect he did not express this very well.”

The verdict

The panel found it reasonable for an employer to discuss diversity with a candidate for a head of HR position and emphasised that aspiring to increase diversity in the workforce is not indicative of discrimination.

“We do not find it concerning or odd that an employer should discuss with a candidate for a post as head of HR the issue of diversity in its workforce,” Judge Lewis stated. “Nor do we find it in itself indicative of an intention to discriminate that an employer should aspire to increase diversity in its workforce where there is underrepresentation. We would expect candidates for a head of HR post to understand these principles and distinctions.”

The ruling reinforces the importance of distinguishing between expressions of a commitment to diversity and actual discriminatory practices in recruitment.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.