Landmark case rules compulsory retirement is not discriminatory

Age discrimination law is in disarray in the wake of a landmark employment tribunal case, legal experts have warned.

A tribunal ruled that Kent-based law firm Clarkson Wright and Jakes (CWJ) did not discriminate against Leslie Seldon, a former senior partner, by forcing him to retire at the age of 65.

CWJ accepted that compulsory retirement was an act of less favourable treatment, but denied discrimination on the grounds that it was justified.

The firm argued that it was proportionate to force partners to retire in order to achieve a number of business aims – for example, to aid workforce planning. The tribunal agreed with CWJ, and ruled that it didn’t matter whether those aims had been fulfilled in Seldon’s case.

Seldon said he planned to appeal the decision.

Even before this decision, many legal commentators had questioned the legality of the compulsory retirement age for employees, and the outcome of the Heyday challenge in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is keenly awaited.

Meanwhile, claims brought by employees are being put on hold pending the outcome of the case.

Jo Davis, partner and head of the employment team at law firm B P Collins, which represented Seldon, said: “If the ECJ challenge is successful and Mr Seldon’s appeal is not, we could find ourselves in the reverse situation to that legislated for: employees able to choose to work beyond 65, and partners who are forced to retire.

“Until we have clarity, many partners may struggle to work beyond 65, even if they wish to.”

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