Former BBC presenter wins ageism claim

Former BBC Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly has won her employment tribunal against the BBC on the grounds of ageism and victimisation but lost her case for sexism.

O’Reilly, 53, was one of four women aged in their 40s and 50s who were told in November 2008 that they would be axed from the show when it moved to a new time slot on Sunday evenings.

Among the new presenters who joined Countryfile after the move were Matt Baker and Julia Bradbury, who are both younger than O’Reilly.

The BBC has apologised to O’Reilly, adding: “The BBC is committed to fair selection in every aspect of our work and we clearly did not get it right in this case.”

As a result of the ruling, the BBC will provide additional training for senior editiorial executives who are responsible for the selection and appointment of presenters and provide new guidance on this issue.

Helen Farr, partner at Pinsent Masons, explained that when the law introducing age discrimination came into force in 2006, it was expected that it would be used principally by white men, who were without any other legal ground to claim they had suffered discrimination.

However, Farr added, both men and women have made discrimination claims, which have seen an increase of more than 500% in four years, according to the Employment Tribunal Service’s annual statistics.

“Employers must therefore ensure that they take decisions properly and don’t take decisions that are or could be decided by a tribunal to be on the basis of an employee’s age,” said Farr. “As the BBC has discovered, the financial and reputational cost if they do so will be high.”

The amount of compensation to be awarded to O’Reilly will be decided at a later hearing.

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