EAT rules on pensions disability discrimination case

An appeal has been allowed against a ruling that found a former technician had been discriminated against by receiving half of the pension he would have been entitled to had he been working full-time at the time of his ill-health retirement.

Case law-judge-2015

In the case of the Trustees of Swansea University Pension and Assurance Scheme (Swansea) vs Andrew Williams, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruled that the original case decision could not stand, allowing the appeal and remitting the case to a fresh tribunal for a complete rehearing.

Case background

Williams served as a full-time technician at the university before taking ill-health early retirement at the age of 38 in June 2013.

The combined conditions of tourette’s syndrome, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder rendered him incapable of fulfilling his post. Neither party in the case disputes his status as a disabled employee.

Under the conditions of the pension scheme applicable to Williams, employees are entitled to a pension upon retirement at the age of 67, unless the retirement is due to ill health. In the case of the latter, employees are entitled to both the immediate payment of the pension and an enhanced pension without actuarial reduction, as if they had continued to work to retirement age on their current salary.  

Prior to his early retirement, Williams’ hours had been temporarily reduced to 17.5 per week in light of his disability. No permanent change to his contractual hours (35 per week) was made.

As Williams’ hours and pay had reduced by half, the enhanced pension he received was also halved.

Rulings and appeals

Williams brought a case against Swansea, claiming that calculating an ill-health early retirement pension on reduced hours constituted unfavourable treatment arising from disability, pursuant to section 15 of the Equality Act.

This claim was upheld by an Employment Tribunal (ET) in July 2014.

Swansea appealed the ET ruling, arguing that its treatment of Williams had actually been more favourable than it would have been for peers without a disability.

At the EAT, Langstaff President allowed the appeal and remitted the case to a new tribunal on the basis that: “Without knowing what is unfavourable about the conduct of which complaint is made, and why it is so, a tribunal is in no position to draw the balance between its discriminatory effect and the legitimate aim it is said to serve.”

In a statement from law firm Didlaw, which represented Williams during Swansea’s appeal, director and senior solicitor Karen Jackson said: ‘Having eagerly awaited judicial guidance on section 15 and the meaning of unfavourable, we must now admit to being disappointed.

‘As is always the case with new law it takes time for it to ’bed down’ and for practitioners to understand the full implications. The EAT appears to suggest that perhaps the provision is not quite as wide as we might have anticipated.’