An appeal which would have allowed the same-sex partner of a college lecturer to access his pension after death is dismissed. A retired lecturer at Trinity College Dublin has lost his appeal at the European Court of Justice which would have allowed his partner of 30 years to access his pension after his death.
In a judgment last week, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) dismissed a claim by Dr David Parris of unfair treatment on the grounds of sex and age discrimination by Trinity College Dublin over its pension rules, which prevent his same-sex partner from accessing a ‘survivor’s pension’ in the event of his death.
On 19 July 2010, the Civil Partnership Act was enacted in Ireland. In September 2010, Dr David Parris, who worked for the university between 1972 and 2010, challenged the university’s pension provision and requested that on his death his civil partner should receive a survivor’s pension. Under Trinity’s pension rules, Dr Parris’ partner would be prohibited from accessing his partner’s pension, because civil partnership was only recognised in Ireland in 2011, after Dr Parris turned 60.
The request by Dr Parris to Trinity that his partner receive a survivor’s pension on his death was rejected by Trinity, and Dr Parris appealed that decision to The Higher Education Authority. Dr Parris retired on 31 December 2010. On 17 May 2011, the Authority upheld the decision of Trinity, and found in particular that Dr Parris had retired before the recognition of his civil partnership by Ireland. The Civil Partnership Act came into force on 1 January 2011. The rules applied by Trinity excluded the payment of a survivor’s benefit where the member married or entered into a civil partnership after the age of 60.
Dr Parris then brought the case to the Equality Tribunal, which dismissed his case. The decision was appealed at the Labour Court which then sought the advice of the ECJ by way of a preliminary ruling.
The Labour Court found that Dr Parris and his partner would have married or contracted a civil partnership previously, had either option been legally possible. Dr Parris and his partner had entered a civil partnership under UK law in 2009, which was recognised in Ireland in January 2011.
Judgment of ECJ
The ECJ considered whether there had been direct or indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation or discrimination on the basis of age.
The court held that a national rule which makes the right of surviving civil partners of occupational benefit scheme members to receive a survivor’s benefit subject to the condition that the civil partnership was entered into before the member reached the age of 60, does not constitute discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, or age. This finding stands, even in circumstances where national law did not allow the member to enter into a civil partnership before reaching that age limit. The ECJ also determined that there is no new category of discrimination from the combination of sexual orientation and age.
The issue of changing social mores around same sex relationships has been before the ECJ on a number of occasions. Employers will be reassured that they will not see their pension costs increase as a result of this potentially far-reaching decision.