House of Lords ruling paves way for pre-October cull of older staff

A landmark House of Lords ruling, which rejected an unfair dismissal appeal of a 67-year-old employee, could open the door for organisations to ‘weed out’ older workers before new age regulations come into force, experts have predicted.

John Rutherford was sacked from clothes wholesaler Harvest Town Circle in 1998, at the age of 67, without redundancy pay.

He was prevented from claiming unfair dismissal by the Employment Rights Act, which states that if you are over the age of 65 you are not entitled to redundancy pay and cannot claim unfair dismissal.

Rutherford appealed the decision under the Sex Discrimination Act, arguing that men were more likely to lose out than women as they generally worked for longer.

In 2002, an employment tribunal in Stratford, east London, ruled that Rutherford and his colleague, Samuel Bentley, who had also been dismissed (aged 73), were entitled to claim unfair dismissal and redundancy payments.

But last week, that decision was overruled by the House of Lords, which said the statistics Rutherford produced to support his case of sex discrimination were not conclusive.

Gordon Lishman, director general of charity Age Concern, said the decision was a “slap in the face” for older workers.

“Hundreds of people with similar cases will lose out because of this decision,” he said. “It is a great shame that after an eight-year fight, the law lords have ruled that age discrimination is acceptable and that older workers can be treated as second-class citizens.”

Jane Amphlett, employment partner at Addleshaw Goddard, said employers could seize on this case as an excuse to get rid of older employees.
“One of the debates employers have had is whether it’s a good idea to weed out any employees they might want to get rid of before October when age laws come into force),” she said.

For a legal analysis of the case

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