Landmark ruling over right to retire older workers 'should not be seen as a green light'


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The Independent Online

A landmark ruling that a law firm was right to retire one of its older partners should not be seen as a green light by employers, experts said today.

Leslie Seldon, who was forced to leave just after his 65th birthday, lost his Supreme Court appeal on age discrimination, a significant case coming just months after the abolition of the default retirement age came into force last October.

However, the judges remitted the matter back to the Employment tribunal to consider whether a mandatory age of 65 was appropriate.

Today, employment law experts welcomed the fact that the judgement would offer greater clarity and guidance to businesses which had been left in limbo since the change in the law but warned that Mr Seldon’s case revolved around very specific issues.

The court heard that part of Mr Seldon’s partnership agreement at Clarkson Wright & Jakes in Kent included a mandatory retirement age. The firm argued its retirement policy was justified, putting forward a number of "legitimate aims" including the need to ensure that younger workers had the opportunity of becoming a partner after a reasonable period.

“All business will now have to give careful consideration to what, if any, mandatory retirement rules can be justified in their particular business,” yesterday’s judgement said.

Arpita Dutt, employment specialist at Stewarts Law, said: “The reality for many businesses is that they have abolished any fixed retirement age and are instead choosing to rely on performance management procedures. Today’s judgement does not give a green light to move away from this practice.”

Michelle Mitchell, director- general of Age UK, called it a “wake-up call to employers”, adding:  “This judgment makes it clear it will be very difficult to justify forced retirement on grounds of age alone.”