In the 2007 case of Seldon v Clarkson Wright and Jakes (ET/1100275/2007), an employment tribunal held that the compulsory retirement of a partner in a law firm was direct age discrimination under the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 (the Regulations). However, the tribunal went on to find that the discrimination could be objectively justified since a compulsory retirement age was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim in that:
- associate solicitors were given an opportunity of partnership after a reasonable time thus encouraging them not to leave the firm;
- it helped the planning of the partnership by having a realistic idea of when vacancies would arise; and
- it limited the need to expel partners on the ground of underperformance.
Seldon challenged this ruling and this case was heard by Mr Justice Elias, President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in July. The appeal also had the backing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is challenging what it says is the assumption that people become more likely to underperform as they get older.
This appeal comes in the same month as a challenge was heard to the legal retirement age of 65 in the European Court of Justice in the Heyday case as mentioned in our December 2007 Update.
The outcome of the Seldon case is eagerly awaited by employers, employees and lawyers alike who collectively hope that the Employment Appeal Tribunal will lay down clear guidelines on how the Regulations are to apply.