Employers will be able to justify discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of cost alone, according to a new ruling from the Court of Appeal.
In the Woodcock v Cumbria Primary Care Trust age discrimination case the court upheld the decisions from the Carlisle Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeals Tribunal that Mr Woodstock’s employer had been justified in dismissing him shortly before his 50th birthday.
The decision meant that the Trust would not have to pay Mr Woodstock, who formerly held the position of chief executive, his enhanced pension, saving them a payout that could have reached up to £1 million.
Although the Trust gave Mr Woodstock the 12 months’ notice he was entitled to, this was before a formal consultation process which could have pushed the duration of the process past his birthday.
However, the Court of Appeal ruled that while Mr Woodstock had been a victim of age discrimination the Trust’s act of dismissal was not unfair in the circumstances and was a justifiable decision.
Audrey Williams, head of discrimination at law firm Eversheds, warned employers that, although the ruling is significant, their workers’ rights should not be compromised by the decision.
“Today’s decision is significant but should not be interpreted as opening the door to exploitation by employers, seeking to justify discriminatory measures or conduct for cost reasons,” she said.
“It is clear the courts will continue to scrutinise the circumstances of and reasons for employer’s decisions as closely as ever – if not more so where cost is being put forward to justify a decision or approach.”
The ruling comes after the government scrapped the Default Retirement Age of 65 last year, but agreed that employers are still allowed to force staff out after a certain age provided that the decision could be justified objectively.