The Supreme Court has dismissed a challenge to an attempt by a law firm to enforce a compulsory retirement age against a partner, in a key ruling for the legal profession and employers in general.
The court on Wednesday handed down its judgement in the high-profile Seldon v. Clarkson Wright & Jakes age discrimination case, dismissing the appeal by Leslie Seldon.
The judgment is expected to reinforce the rights of law firms to manage their partnerships via compulsory retirement policies, although the ruling has been interpreted by some employment advisers as having narrowed the scope for employers to justify age discrimination.
The ruling is the culmination of a legal battle launched in 2007 by Seldon, a partner in Clarkson Wright & Jakes, who argued that a compulsory retirement age of 65 constituted age discrimination. Seldon originally took the case to an employment tribunal before it reached the Court of Appeal last year, which also rejected his claim.
Seldon's request to remain with the firm as a salaried partner or consultant was rejected and he was ousted from the partnership in 2006, the year he turned 65.
The case turned on whether age discrimination inherent in mandatory retirement policies can be justified under the law as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate business aim. The case has attracted additional attention given last year's legal abolition of the default retirement age.
Clarkson Wright & Jakes argued a list of six business aims as justification for the policy, focused on making way for associates and junior partners to advance in the firm.
The case was heard by Justices Lady Hale and Lords Hope, Brown, Mance and Kerr, with Hale delivering the lead judgment.
Despite finding that Clarkson Wright & Jakes was justified in having a broadly applied policy on age discrimination, Hale warned that businesses should carefully consider their polices, stating: "There is ... a distinction between justifying the application of the rule to a particular individual, which in many cases would negate the purpose of having a rule, and justifying the rule in the particular circumstances of the business. All businesses will now have to give careful consideration to what, if any, mandatory retirement rules can be justified."
Despite unanimously rejecting Seldon's appeal, the court referred the case back to the Employment Tribunal to consider whether the choice of a retirement age at 65 was justified.
The case was also considered alongside a claim involving indirect discrimination -- Homer v. Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police -- which saw an appeal by an older worker who had not been considered for promotion upheld. However, the court sent the case back to the Employment Tribunal to reconsider the justification for the appellant's treatment.
Seldon, whose case was supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, instructed Cloisters' Robin Allen.
Clarkson Wright & Jakes instructed Thomas Croxford of Blackstone Chambers. The case also saw arguments put forward by Age UK and the U.K. Government, which instructed Cloisters' Declan O'Dempsey and Blackstone silk Dinah Rose respectively.
For reaction to the ruling, click here.