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Lawyer launches age discrimination case against his firm

PUBLISHED: 11:15 16 July 2009 | UPDATED: 09:17 12 August 2010

A LEGAL challenge by a solicitor forced to retire at 65 could affect every employee in the country, a panel of top judges was told.  The Government has intervened in the case of Leslie Seldon, from Bidborough, Kent, who claims he was discriminated against

A LEGAL challenge by a solicitor forced to retire at 65 could affect every employee in the country, a panel of top judges was told.

The Government has intervened in the case of Leslie Seldon, from Bidborough, Kent, who claims he was discriminated against on grounds of age when his Orpington firm, Clarkson Wright Jakes, asked him to leave at the normal retirement age in line with his partnership agreement.

Dinah Rose QC, representing the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills who are opposing Mr Seldon, will argue during the two-day hearing at the Court of Appeal that the case raises "important questions of policy and principle".

Robin Allen QC, representing Mr Seldon, whose case is being backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, told the judges on Monday hat this was the first time that the appeal court has had the chance to look at whether and how direct age discrimination may be justified.

He said age discrimination was a new subject in law since the introduction of the Employment Equality (Age) Discrimination Regulations in 2006.

Mr Allen asked the judges to view the new laws as if they were looking at cases involving the sex discrimination regulations in 1976 when they were first introduced.

Longevity was increasing rapidly, he said, and the retirement age limit introduced after the Second World War was no longer justified.

He said many people, including his client, found themselves "financially embarrassed" when facing retirement.

Mr Seldon still had children at university and had a disabled son who would never be able to support himself.

He said: "He needed to go on working.

"These are the sorts of problems many people face aged 65 - how to address the problems of retirement.

"It is a problem associated with greater longevity. He asked to continue in the partnership but these discussions came to nothing."

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is intervening in a separate legal challenge next Thursday at the High Court over compulsory retirement in a case brought against the Government by the charities Age Concern and Help the Aged.

It will decide if the UK's default retirement age can be justified under EU law.

The Commission will contend that having a national default retirement age is not justified by social policy and should be outlawed as discriminatory.

Mr Seldon, who was a senior civil litigation partner for 35 years at the firm in Knoll Rise first took his case to an Employment Tribunal and then on to an Employment Appeal Tribunal which both agreed that it could be lawful to force partners to leave solely on the grounds of age if it gave younger solicitors a chance to become partners.

Scores of age discrimination claims are waiting in the pipeline for the outcome of these challenges.

Given the importance of the case, the Appeal Court judges will reserve their decision in the case until a later date.

kate.mead@archant.co.uk

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