Employment Lawyers: Justifying Age Discrimination

Unlike other forms of discrimination, such as race or sex discrimination, the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 do allow a defence of justification in cases of direct discrimination, where this is ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

In the first major case involving the Regulations, which were introduced in October 2006, the Employment Tribunal (ET) has dismissed a £4.5 million age discrimination claim brought against a City of London law firm (Bloxham v Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer).

Peter Bloxham, 54, was head of restructuring at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. He brought a claim of age discrimination against his former partners because he had lost out financially as a result of transitional arrangements made when the firm’s pension scheme was being reformed. Had he been a year older, his retirement pension would not have been affected.

The ET found that Mr Bloxham had suffered less favourable treatment compared with partners aged 55 or over and that the treatment would be discriminatory unless justified. However, when considering the test of justification, in the ET’s view, Freshfields did have a legitimate aim in reforming its pension arrangements.
Without reform, the scheme in place meant that younger partners would be disadvantaged as they would contribute more but receive smaller pensions. The firm had carried out a lengthy consultation before introducing the changes and no less discriminatory method of achieving the desired reform had been put forward then or since.

The ET therefore found that the firm not only met but comfortably passed the test. Its unanimous judgment was that Mr Bloxham’s complaint was ‘not well founded’ and it dismissed his claims of direct and indirect age discrimination.

NEWS 15/05/2010 – In 2 recent cases the European Court of Justice has found
justifications for age discrimination!

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