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Supreme Court rulings on an age discrimination case could become guidelines to employers on setting up retirement age (20 April 2012)

Date: 20/04/2012
Duncan Lewis, Legal News Solicitors, Supreme Court rulings on an age discrimination case could become guidelines to employers on setting up retirement age

In age discrimination case the Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by a man who claimed he was forced to retire at 65, but the court also ruled that the employers must be able to justify imposing mandatory retirement ages.

The Supreme Court’s ruling now would act as guidelines for employers who can continue to set age of staff retirements but have to justify according to the given circumstances.

In 2011 the government had abolished the default retirement age, the mandatory retirement age, which the employers could fix for their staff. Though age discrimination being, unlawful there are exceptions to it, if it can be justified on the grounds of proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said judging whether a justification was valid or not was confusing for both employers and employees. But in ruling on the case of Seldon v Clarkson, Wright & Jakes the Supreme Court justices have provided guidelines on when direct age discrimination may be justified.
A Solicitor took a case against his firm, when he was asked to leave the firm after he attained 65 years which was the normal retirement age of the firm which was in line with his partnership agreement.
The firm contested by saying that its mandatory retirement age gave associates an opportunity of partnership within a reasonable timeframe which could act as an incentive to stay. The retirement age also allowed it to plan recruitment and promotion as the firm could know when a vacancy would be created and also the need to limit expelling of underperforming partners, which contributed to a congenial and supportive culture within the firm.
The Supreme Court justices ruled that two types of aims had succeeded in the courts, intergenerational fairness and dignity. Setting up of a mandatory retirement age gave an opportunity for younger people to be employed, facilitating the participation of older workers in the workforce, an efficient planning for the departure and recruitment of staff, and avoiding disputes about the employee's fitness for work over a certain age.
But the court said once a firm had identified an aim, it had still to be asked whether it was legitimate in the particular circumstances of the employment concerned.
The methods employed for achieving the aim must be balanced and fair to that aim, and also should be necessary to achieve it.
The Supreme Court decided that the firm did have valid reasons for imposing a mandatory retirement age, but has sent claimant’s case back to an employment tribunal to reconsider whether forcing partners to leave after their 65th birthday rather than at a later age was appropriate and necessary.

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