In October of last year, Patricia Hewitt admitted breaching Sex Discrimination Act when she appointed a woman to an influential job instead of the better-qualified male candidate recommended by officials.
The unsuccessful male candidate, merchant banker, Malcolm Hanney from Somerset, took the former Trade Secretary and the Department of Trade and Industry to court when he was turned down for a £9,000-a-year position on the South West Regional Development Agency.
Last September, when Mr Hanney was interviewed for the position he was told that he was being recommended for the job. However, in late October he discovered that he had missed out in favour of another, female, candidate.
Mr Hanney then requested, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, to see the notes made by the interview board. The notes indicated that he was the preferred candidate for appointment. Mr Hanney, quoted in The Times, said: "I had scored 28 out of 30 points and the panel said I was by far the strongest candidate."
The final decision on the appointment was, however, taken by the Minister, Mrs Hewitt. She rejected the interview board recommendation and instead appointed Christine Channon, a councillor from Devon. Mrs Hewitt said the appointment was made on the basis of the Code of Practice on Public Appointments, which states that: "Ministers will wish to balance boards in terms of diversity as well as skills and experience."
Upon receiving the board notes, Mr Hanney wrote to the Director of Regional Development Agency Sponsorship and Finance at the Department of Trade and Industry stating that he thought that the appointment was “sexually discriminatory and illegal as it had ignored the interviewers’ recommendation”. He also filed a complaint to the Commissioner for Public Appointments and instituted court proceedings.
In April 2005, the Commissioner for Public Appointments acknowledged that the appointment was contrary to the Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments and recommended that the DTI apologise to Mr Hanney. However, the Department decided not to do so.
However, in August last year, before the court began hearing Mr Hanney's case, the DTI changed its mind and admitted sexual discrimination. Following this admission, the High Court ruled that the Secretary of State should pay Mr Hanney’s legal costs of £17,967.17. It described the DTI’s action as “unlawful sex discrimination”. It did not award compensation as none had been sought by Mr Hanney, who stated that he had brought the case on principle and was not looking for compensation.
The DTI have stated that processes have now been changed to ensure the situation did not happen again.