United Kingdom

New Rulings on Justifying Age Discrimination

By Richard Lister

BusinesspeopleII.jpgIn three recent cases, the UK's appellate courts have considered important aspects of the legal requirements for justifying discrimination on grounds of age.

Firstly, the Supreme Court's decision in Seldon v Clarkson Wright and Jakes [2012] UKSC 16 focused on the circumstances in which employers can justify a mandatory contractual retirement age. This is an instance of direct discrimination on grounds of age. The judgment will make it relatively difficult for employers to justify compulsory retirement. In particular, the Court made clear that the justification test for direct age discrimination is narrower than for indirect discrimination. Employers must be able to point to a "social policy" objective and not merely focus on their own business situation.

For full analysis of the ruling in Seldon and its implications, continue reading Lewis Silkin's article.

In contrast, the Supreme Court's judgment in Homer v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police [2012] UKSC 15 concerned a complaint of indirect age discrimination - an employer making attainment of a higher grade dependent on having a law degree. Mr. Homer was 61 and could not obtain such a degree - and thereby benefit from increased status and salary - because of his impending retirement.

The Court decided that Mr. Homer had suffered indirect discrimination, since a person in his age group did not have time to acquire a law degree before retirement and was therefore put at a disadvantage compared with persons in another age group. On the issue of justification, the Court said that the range of aims that could potentially justify indirect age discrimination was greater than for direct discrimination. It was not limited to social policy considerations and a real business need on the part of an employer may be sufficient.

For further details and commentary on the Homer ruling, continue reading Lewis Silkin's article.

Finally, in Woodcock v Cumbria Primary Care Trust [2012] EWCA Civ 330, the Court of Appeal has made a significant ruling on the extent to which employers can rely on considerations of cost as a justification for age discrimination. The Court held that cost alone cannot be used to justify discrimination, but it can form part of a valid justification defence in combination with other factors. Continue reading Lewis Silkin's report for further discussion of this case.

Photo credit: Johnny Greig

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