Ministers on alert over age bias wrangle

THE COALITION’S new rules on the retirement age could be plunged into confusion after a long-running discrimination case opened in the Supreme Court yesterday.

Leslie Seldon, who was a partner at London law firm Clarkson Wright and Jakes, is taking his former employer to the highest court in the land after he was forced to retire at the age of 65.

The firm claims it took the decision based on its partnership deed and its attempts to ensure a “collegiate atmosphere” by not pushing out older partners through performance reviews.

If Seldon is successful in overturning the earlier ruling by the Court of Appeal – which upheld CWJ’s decision – it could force the government to re-think its reform of age discrimination laws. Last year ministers axed the default retirement age, preventing employers from getting rid of staff solely because they had reached the age of 65.

Seldon’s case against CWJ is being funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which has demanded clarity on what is a reasonable interpretation of the rules.

John Wadham, group legal director of the EHRC, said: “Forced retirement ages have been abolished, but now lawyers and employers need to understand when age discrimination is ‘justifiable’ in terms of the law.

“People should be measured on what they can contribute in the workplace: age-related stereotypes about what people can or cannot do should not be a factor.”

Emma Bartlett, employment partner at law firm Speechly Bircham, said: “The government’s attitude to retirement has changed since Seldon was at the Court of Appeal. The government no longer considers it necessary to give employers freedom to retire employees at 65 without justification. The Supreme Court may therefore find it difficult to construe Clarkson Wright & Jakes’ aims in line with social policy. [However] other cases have maintained that workplace planning can be a relevant justification for enforced retirement.”

Seldon’s case is expected to conclude today, with the judgement being handed down several weeks later. It is being heard before another case of alleged age discrimination, due tomorrow, involving a former legal advisor employed by West Yorkshire Police.