Case study: Court rejects retirement age appeal

The Court of Appeal rejected an appeal by Leslie Seldon, who was forced to retire at 65 by his employer, law firm Clarkson Wright and Jakes.

In the case Seldon v Clarkson Wright and Jakes, the court deemed that it was not unlawful to make Seldon retire at 65 after a long period of service as a partner at the firm of solicitors. It sided with the firm’s justifications for its retirement age, which were: the need to retain junior employees by providing the opportunity of partnership; aiding workforce planning by allowing realistic expectations about when vacancies would arise; and ensuring a pleasant and supportive workplace by ensuring partners did not have to be barred from partnership through performance management.

Rachel Dineley, employment partner and head of the diversity and discrimination unit at law firm Beachcroft, says: “Retirement age is a tricky business for all organisations. For the time being, employers can still fairly retire employees at or after 65 if they follow the prescribed procedure. This case tells us what they may need to do in relation to non-employees and, looking ahead, what they will need to do in relation to employees when the default retirement age comes to be abolished.

“Whether [employers] can retire a nonemployee depends on whether there is an objective justification, which will
rarely be a straightforward issue. As the case makes clear, [employers] may only lawfully discriminate against partners on grounds of age if they can justify it. That is to say, they have a legitimate aim and use a proportionate means of achieving the aim or aims.”

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