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Supreme Court rejects retirement age discrimination complaint

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by an employee who argued his employer’s decision to sack him at 65 was age discrimination.

The judgment relates to Leslie Seldon’s complaint against his former employer Clarkson Wright and Jakes.

Seldon joined the law firm in 1971 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 reached the age of 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”.

Seldon’s initial complaint against the decision was rejected by the Employment Tribunal.

His subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court has today also been unanimously dismissed.

Business leaders and lawyers have played down the impact the ruling will have on legislation introduced by the Government in October last year to end compulsory retirement at age 65.

Confederation of British Industry head of employment and employee relations Guy Bailey says: “The absolute priority for the business community is to deal with particular issues about conversations around retirement planning.

“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 by the back door.”

The Government will produce a consultation paper in the summer on ‘protected conversations’ about retirement between employers and employees.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman says: “The decision today helps to clarify the use and justification of compulsory retirement ages by businesses, following the abolition of the default retirement age.

“It confirms that businesses can justify a compulsory retirement age based on legitimate aims such as workforce planning provided that this is proportionate.

“While we do not expect this decision to fundamentally change the retirement policies of most businesses, we believe that this decision will give greater certainty to those businesses that have chosen to apply a retirement age.

“Legislation has always allowed a business to impose a set retirement age so long as it could be objectively justified. This was the case while the DRA was in operation and remained the same following its abolition.

“This decision has given some guidance as to when this may be acceptable. We will now be considering the implications of the judgment, including whether any adjustments to official guidance are necessary.”



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