Page last updated on Wednesday 15th May 2013 at 1415hrs
A long running dispute that commenced in 2005 with a unilateral revision to Terence Homer’s employment terms by his employers, West Yorkshire Police, ended seven years later before five Law Lords in the Supreme Court with a thumping defeat for the police.
Mr Homer joined the Police National Legal Database (PNLD) as a legal adviser in 1995, at the age of 51, following retirement after 30 years as a police officer. His rank at exit from West Yorkshire Police was detective inspector.
West Yorkshire Police are the operators of the not-for-profit PNLD. Following an internal review in 2005, the PNLD introduced a new career structure with three thresholds. In order to be eligible for the highest pay grade, legal advisers were required to hold a law degree. Mr Homer was refused entry into the highest pay grade on the basis he did not hold a law degree.
He complained to the Employment Tribunal that he had been treated less favourably on the ground of age discrimination, founded in the fact that, being 61, he would not be able to obtain a law degree before he was likely to retire, unlike younger colleagues.
The Supreme Court law lords unanimously allowed Mr Homer’s appeal, finding that he was “indirectly discriminated against” by West Yorkshire Police: Lord Hope, Lady Hale, Lord Brown, Lord Mance and Lord Kerr, remitted his case to the Employment Tribunal to “reconsider the issue of justification”.
The case essentially turned on an interpretation of a rule that allows employers to justify age discrimination if they can prove it is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.
Commenting on the Supreme Court ruling, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which partly funded the case of Terence Homer, said it believed the judgments “will remind all employers of their responsibilities and help make the law clearer. Age discrimination is unlawful in the workplace, but the law allows exceptions to that general rule only if it can be justified.
“The justification is if it is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. This test can be confusing for employers and employees.”
John Wadham, the commission’s general counsel, added: “The judgments remind employers that a worker’s age is not shorthand for their competence and should never be used in that way. An employee’s ability to do a job should not be based on out of date assumptions about what people can do as they get older”.
He concluded “An employer or partnership must be sure that the same aim couldn’t be achieved using a less discriminatory approach.”