Reynolds –v- Canada Life [2015]

Background

Dr Reynolds was a consultant for Canada Life, prior to which she had been their Chief Medical Officer. She was dismissed in 2006 when she was 73 years old by the UK General Manager, Mr Gilmour. This followed Mr Gilmour’s attendance at a presentation to him highlighting deficiencies in Dr Reynold’s performance and suggesting that she was not capable of change. Dr Reynolds argued that her dismissal was an act of age discrimination.

The Employment Tribunal(ET) rejected the claim, finding that Mr Gilmour came to his decision on the basis of his own genuine belief that Dr Reynolds was failing to provide the services which Canada Life required; further that Dr Reynolds’ age had no bearing on his decision.

On appeal the Employment Tribunal (EAT) reversed the decision and concluded that discrimination had been committed as those who presented the information about Dr Reynolds had been motivated by her age. It found that, whilst Mr Gilmour personally made the final decision, it had been ‘significantly influenced’ by those discriminatory acts.

Decision

The Court of Appeal has now overturned the EAT’s judgment and supported the approach taken by the ET, which focused solely on the mental processes of Mr Gilmour as the person actually making the decision to dismiss. It found that the ET was entitled to conclude that Mr Gilmour had acted alone and that the reasons for his decision did not amount to discrimination.

The court provides guidance that the mental processes of others should be viewed as ‘separate acts to the decision to dismiss. Had the decision been made jointly, the motivation of all those responsible would have to be considered but, as Mr Gilmour had clearly regarded the decision as his sole responsibility, only his own thought processes could be relevant.

On the facts, it had been decided that he did not have any regard to Dr Reynolds’ age and that his decision was based on fair and justifiable reasons. In addition, Dr Reynolds had presented her claim on the basis that Mr Gilmour had been motivated by her age, arguing throughout proceedings that the discriminatory act in question was his decision to dismiss her; as he was the subject of her allegations only his motivations could be relevant, not those of others.

Comment

Employers will welcome this decision, as it should serve to restrict the scope of discrimination claims to what the relevant decision-maker did and why. However, that would not prevent claimants identifying wider issues as detriments in the right circumstances. This decision may have been different had Dr Reynolds argued that the actions of the other members of staff in relation to the presentation were also discriminatory acts.

Caution should be applied where a decision to dismiss is made jointly, as the ET will consider the motivation of all of those involved in making that decision.