The Employment Appeal Tribunal has decided that a requirement for employees to hold a law degree in order to be graded at a higher pay scale was not indirect age discrimination.
This case may give employers some comfort when imposing a requirement that employees or job applicants should hold certain academic qualifications. However, employers should always give serious consideration as to whether the requirements of the job could be met in another way (for example, a lesser qualification coupled with relevant experience).
In the case of Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police v Homer, Mr Homer worked as a legal advisor at the Police National Legal Database.
When he commenced employment in 1995 there was no requirement for legal advisors to hold law degrees. Following a review, a new career structure was established. Mr Homer's application to be re-graded in the new structure was not successful because he did not have a law degree.
Mr Homer was 61 years old and his claim was that as he was due to retire at 65, he could not in practice have obtained that law degree (studying part-time) before he was due to retire.
An employment tribunal found that Mr Homer had been indirectly discriminated against on the grounds of his age. However, the EAT overturned this finding and found that there was no discrimination on the grounds of Mr Homer's age for the following reasons;-
- All employees were required to hold a degree and it was not something required only for those over a certain age.
- It was not in principle any more difficult for an older person to obtain a degree than a younger person.
- The disadvantage to Mr Homer that he could not benefit from the degree because he was due to retire in a few years time, was an "inevitable consequence of age" because older workers have a shorter working life remaining to them than younger workers.
However, the EAT went on to hold that had it found the requirement for a degree was discriminatory on the grounds of age, it agreed with the tribunal that such a requirement could not be justified as it was not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate business aim (ie, the recruitment and retention of appropriately qualified staff).
It is worth noting that the claim was presented to the Tribunal on the basis that the Claimant had suffered a disadvantage because he was effectively prevented from achieving the qualification prior to his date of retirement. The Claimant did not present his case on the basis of any general disadvantage such as, for example, that persons aged 60 to 65 years were less likely to have a law degree than those of a different age group. Had such an argument been presented and supported with statistical evidence the outcome to this case may have been different.