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Justifying age discrimination

In the case of Lockwood v Department of Work and Pensions and another [2013] UKEAT 0094/12 the EAT held that direct age discrimination can be objectively justified dependent on the situation.

Background

Directly discriminating against someone on the basis of their age is not permitted unless the employer can show that the treatment was objectively justified.

In Seldon v Clarkson Wright and Jakes (a partnership) [2012] IRLR 590, the Supreme Court held that a law firm had legitimate aims such as staff retention and workforce planning which could potentially justify its compulsory retirement of a partner at the age of 65. In order for treatment to be justified, the Supreme Court held that the policy in question had to have legitimate objectives of a "public interest nature".

Facts

Miss Lockwood worked as an Administrative Officer for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). In April 2007, her position was found to be redundant and she took advantage of the voluntary redundancy scheme offered by the DWP. Miss Lockwood's employment terminated in September 2007.

Under the voluntary redundancy scheme, as a 26 year-old employee with 8 years' service, she received a redundancy payment of £10,849.04. If she had been over the age of 35 with the same length of service, she would have been entitled to an additional payment of £17,690.58 under the scheme.

As a result Miss Lockwood brought a claim for direct age discrimination.

Decision

The EAT upheld the tribunal's decision and dismissed her claim on two main grounds:

  • There was a material difference between the two age groups and as such it was not appropriate to compare both. This was based upon the comparative difficulties suffered by older women upon loss of employment.

  • The EAT considered that the treatment was in fact justified as it was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. The EAT confirmed that the reason it was justified was that it was related to a social policy objective of providing financial security that reflected the additional problems older women would experience after losing their jobs.


 Comment


The provision of financial protection to those who may suffer more from loss of employment was a legitimate aim in the public interest.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at February 2013. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases; we cannot be held responsible for any action (or decision not to take action) made in reliance upon the content of this publication.

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