Commission funds first age discrimination cases heard at the Supreme Court

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The Commission used the first two age discrimination cases heard by the UK’s Supreme Court on the 17 January 2012 to argue that an exception to the law banning age discrimination in employment is in urgent need of clarification.

Both cases seek clarity from the UK’s highest court on the interpretation of the rule that allows employers to justify age discrimination if they can prove it is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

Default retirement age was scrapped in April 2011, however, an employer can still force an employee to retire using if it can show that the policy is justifiable as a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. For this reason, the Supreme Court’s clarification of the test has wide implications for all retirement situations.

The Commission is funding and running the direct discrimination case of Mr Seldon against the law firm where he was a senior partner – Clarkson, Wright and Jakes. He was forced to retire in 2006 because he turned 65.

The regulator is also funding the indirect discrimination case of Mr Homer against Yorkshire Police Constabulary where he was a senior legal advisor. He could not get the highest pay grade, after his employer’s rules changed, because he did not have a degree nor could he complete one before his retirement.

John Wadham, Group Legal Director at the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s said:

‘Forced retirement ages have been abolished, but now lawyers and employers need to understand when age discrimination is ‘justifiable’ in terms of the law.

‘People should be measured on what they can contribute in the workplace: age-related stereotypes about what people can or cannot do should not be a factor. It would not be tolerated if it was applied to any other form of discrimination.’

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