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Age verdict won’t make impact on mandatory rules

Lawyers and business leaders say the Supreme Court’s decision to reject an employee’s appeal against a law firm that sacked him on the grounds of age will not have a significant impact on mandatory retirement ages.

Last October, the Government abolished the default retirement age of 65, making it illegal for an employer to sack an employee on grounds of age. But last week the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Leslie Seldon against the decision by law firm Clarkson Wright and Jales to sack him at 65, claiming age discrimination.

Seldon joined the firm in1971 and was made an equity partner in 1972. In 2005, Seldon and the other partners in the firm agreed and adopted a partnership deed which provided that partners who reach the age of 65 had to retire from the firm by the following December. Seldon was 65 on January 15, 2006. He asked to continue working beyond this point but was refused because the firm’s other partners decided there was “no sufficient business need”.

His initial complaint against the decision was rejected by the Employment Tribunal. His subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court was unanimously dismissed last week.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman says: “The decision confirms that businesses can justify a compulsory retirement age based on legitimate aims such as workforce planning, provided this is proportionate.”

Confederation of British Industry head of employment and employee relations Guy Bailey says the ruling is likely to apply only to law firms.

He says: “It is possible that the ruling could be applied to other law firms in this specific situation but if any other employer wants to set a retirement age, the implication is they would have to go through a costly and lengthy legal process to ensure it is legitimate. There is very little that most employers can draw from this ruling.”

CMS Cameron McKenna head of employment law Anthony Fincham says: “I do not think this judgment will allow mandatory retirement ages to return through the back door.”


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