The Equality Tribunal (the Tribunal) recently issued its latest determination on the topical subject of age discrimination and compulsory retirement (Richard Lett v Earagail Eisc Teo (DEC E2014-076). The Tribunal awarded €24,000 to a seafood company employee who had his working hours reduced from five to three days a week for twenty eight weeks before he was forced to retire at 66.
The claimant alleged age discrimination, both in relation to his conditions of employment and his dismissal. The Tribunal noted that as the claimant had not received a copy of the company handbook he may not have been aware of the company's retirement age of 65. The claimant refused to retire on reaching 65 and was then compulsorily retired when he reached the age of 66. This was sufficient to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, which the respondent employer then had to rebut.
The Tribunal had to consider whether there was objective justification for the discrimination. The Tribunal noted that the respondent, even as a private actor, must provide objective justification and that it has been the practice of the Equality Tribunal to interpret the relevant legislative section, s34(4) of the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011, in a harmonious way with the grounding EU Equal Treatment Directive.
Having established that objective justification was required in the case the Tribunal then examined the justifications put forward. Firstly, the Tribunal looked at the reasons of having "an age balanced workforce" and "intergenerational fairness or sharing job opportunities among generations". In looking at the evidence before it, the Tribunal noted that the complainant was not replaced and in light of this queried the necessity for the complainant to retire when the job was not given to anyone else. The Tribunal also looked at the reason of "avoiding disputes with older employees about their fitness to work". The respondent employer did not advance any evidence that the ability to perform the job was related to any characteristics or attributes that would require the claimant to be 65 or under. Accordingly the Tribunal found that decision to retire the claimant was not objectively justified.
The case provides useful guidance on what constitutes objective justification. Objective justifications given in this case were previously accepted in other cases before the Tribunal. This case demonstrates the Tribunal applying a more forensic examination to reasons advanced and makes it clear that a general "one size fits all approach" to retirement planning will not be accepted and that careful thought, specific to the needs of the particular business needs to be applied.
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