Taking an objective view of retirement

A lawyer who tried to sue the firm of solicitors of which he was a partner for breaching age discrimination laws after being forced to retire at the age of 65 years, has lost his case as the law firm was able to objectively justify its reasons for enforcing retirement.

Under the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, the retirement of a partner at a particular age must be objectively justified in order to provide a defence to a finding of direct discrimination.

In the case of Seldon v Clarkson Wright and Jakes, the law firm produced a ‘partnership deed’ stating that all partners must take compulsory retirement at 65 years. While Clarkson Wright and Jakes accepted that the expulsion from the partnership was a difference of treatment on grounds of age, it argued that it had objective justification for taking this action.

The Employment Tribunal accepted the argument that the law firm needed to grow as a business and provide opportunities to others.

Simon Jeffreys, partner, employment, at CMS Cameron McKenna, explains: “So that the business can grow and progress the firm had to give others who are not yet partners the ability to be promoted to partner. The firm wanted partners to retire so there is a turnover when partners are less productive.”

He added that organisations with partners can get a better understanding of how the Employment Tribunal views objective justification around age discrimination from this case, but warned that this should be treated as guidance only and that each case is dependent upon its facts.

“People always need to remember the facts in each situation, and that you can’t take one successful case such as the Clarkson case [as a ruling for all], if your situation doesn’t support that,” he said.