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Employment Update: Supreme Court guidance on age discrimination


United Kingdom

Employment Update: Supreme Court guidance on age discrimination

The Supreme Court has handed down two key judgments on age discrimination, providing useful guidance on the scope of justification of both direct and indirect age discrimination.  Although the cases were decided under the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, the principles will apply equally under the Equality Act 2010.

In Seldon v Clarkson Wright and Jakes, which has been followed particularly closely since the abolition of the default retirement age, the Court stated that all businesses will need to give careful consideration to what, if any, mandatory retirement rules can be justified. Although the Court confirmed that broad social aims, such as inter-generational fairness, may provide the basis for justifying a mandatory retirement age, employers will still need to satisfy the court that such aims are legitimate and proportionate to their particular business. This is unlikely to be an easy task for employers seeking to maintain a mandatory retirement age.

In Homer v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, heard alongside Seldon, the Court also confirmed that a requirement which works to the comparative disadvantage of an employee approaching mandatory retirement age does constitute indirect age discrimination. 

Whilst both Seldon and Homer have made the headlines this week, each case is far from resolved. Although the Court has provided helpful guidance on age discrimination, the tribunal will still need to establish whether a law firm's retirement age of 65 (in Seldon) and a requirement to have a law degree (in Homer) are proportionate means of achieving the aims identified in each case.

For further information about each case please see below:

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