Over the past 8 years or so Leslie Seldon (pictured) has been pursuing what has been one of the highest profile age discrimination claims so far. The case has been considered in the European Court as well as the top courts in this country. It looks as if he may finally have reached the end of the road – although he has potentially paved the way for others.
As you may recall, Mr Seldon’s claim was based on him having been forced to retire as a partner in the law firm Clarkson Wright & Jakes at the age of 65. He argued that this amounted to discrimination on the grounds of his age. He was not an employee, but employment status is not required for discrimination claims.
The European Court of Justice and the Supreme Court found that there was an arguable case for age discrimination, but the case was sent back to the Employment Tribunal to consider whether in the circumstances the requirement to retire at age 65 amounted to a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. If it did, then Clarkson Wright & Jakes would have a successful defence to Mr Seldon’s claim.
Last year we reported on the Tribunal’s decision that the retirement age of 65 was justified in the circumstances. The case has now been appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) who have rejected the appeal and confirmed that the Tribunal’s reasoning was sound. Although Mr Seldon could potentially now appeal to the Court of Appeal, it does seem that this will now end the long-running case.
However, although at first glance it might appear that the courts have endorsed an employer’s ability to enforce a fixed retirement age, that is most definitely not the case. The findings in Mr Seldon’s case are very much based on the situation that applied as at the date when he was forced to retire as a partner, i.e. eight years ago. In 2006 there was a default retirement age for employees of 65, which is one of the significant factors the court took into account in favour of Mr Seldon’s retirement age being reasonable. Since April 2011 that default age no longer applies, and in our view it would now be very difficult for most employers to justify a fixed retirement age other than in special circumstances.
We are experienced at advising on issues relating to retirement and potential age discrimination. If you are dealing with a similar issue, please do give us a call on 01243 836840.