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Oxford Professor Wins Age Discrimination Case at 69yrs

Oxford Professor Wins Age Discrimination Case at 69yrs

Employment Solicitor, Sejal Patel, looks at the news this week as the equality discrimination case of Oxford Professor Paul Ewart has been upheld.

Sejal Patel

Paul Ewart was forced to retire from his post before his 70th birthday in 2017 and was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against, an employment tribunal ruled last week. 

  • The Reading Employment Tribunal found Oxford University acted unlawfully by dismissing Professor Paul Ewart, who was head of atomic and laser physics at Oxford’s Clarendon Laboratory, because of his age. At the time of his dismissal in 2017, Professor Ewart was 69. 

Oxford University introduced its Employer Justified Retirement Age policy (EJRA) in 2011 in a positive bid to bring younger and more diverse staff into the university. The policy meant that senior grade staff would retire in the September before they turn 68, with the organisation increasing the age threshold from 67 in 2017. The intention appears to have been to encourage new blood into the profession at the junior end and to formalise succession planning for older employees.

  • The Reading Employment Tribunal founds that the university’s method of bringing in younger academics was not a ‘proportionate’ way of achieving diversity.

Avoiding liability in cases requires "objective justification". This means an employer needs to show that the compulsory retirement age is a ‘proportionate’ means of achieving a legitimate aim, which this case did not demonstrate.

In April 2011, the Age Regulations which historically allowed employers to retire employees at age 65, the default retirement age, was abolished, allowing older employees to carry on working into their 70’s and beyond should they wish to. Only in special circumstances can an employee be asked to leave their employment with “objective justification”.

 

Employment Solicitor Sejal Patel says:

“Discriminating against anyone at work because of protected characteristics, such as age, is illegal under the Equality Act 2010. It is unlawful to force retirement on an employee unless it is proven ‘objectively justified’ and although Oxford University’s compulsory retirement policy was shown to be a proportionate mean of achieving a legitimate aim – ‘objective justification’ in this case was difficult for the employer to prove.

However, promoting access to employment for younger people and sharing employment opportunities fairly between generations can be considered as acceptable legitimate aims, therefore each case’s merits are considered on a case by case basis. This case fell short."

If you believe you have experienced age discrimination at work, we can help. Please remember there are strict time limits in Employment claims and you should take good free legal advice as soon as possible. Please contact Sejal Patel on spatel@lawson-west.co.uk.

 

Useful web links:

The Times article

The Independent article 

 

 

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