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Age discrimination and the requirement for a degree

Posted on 20th May 2010
Case law

The Court of Appeal has concluded that it is not discriminatory on the grounds of age to require certain staff nearing retirement to hold a degree.

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the requirement for a law degree applied to anyone, whatever their age and it was no more restrictive for an older person to obtain a law degree than a younger person

Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police v Homer [2010]

Background

Mr Homer joined the Police National Legal Database (PNLD) as a legal adviser. At the time, legal advisers needed a law or equivalent degree (which he did not have) or "exceptional experience/skills in criminal law, combined with a lesser qualification in law" (which he did). Subsequently, PNLD introduced a "three threshold" career structure. Mr Homer failed in his application to be treated as within the third threshold as he did not have a law degree.

The decision

An employment tribunal held that, as Mr Homer was near to retirement, requiring him to obtain a degree to come within the third threshold was indirectly discriminatory as he could not obtain a degree before retirement.
The Court of Appeal upheld the EAT decision.  

It held that the disadvantage suffered by Mr Homer was not the result of his age, but rather the retirement date. It continued that the requirement for a law degree applied to anyone, whatever their age and it was no more restrictive for an older person to obtain a law degree than a younger person. This was not discriminary.

An additional argument that older people were financially disadvantaged by the need for a law degree was also rejected. The argument ran that someone close to retirement would not benefit from obtaining a law degree. The Court commented that this was the same for any benefit awarded by an employer, including a pay increase. Those with only a few years to retirement would only benefit from the increase for those few years. Younger employees would benefit for longer. This did not, however, amount to indirect age discrimination.

Comment

Both the EAT and Court of Appeal hinted that Mr Homer may have been successful had his case been argued differently. Mr Homer had not claimed that as more younger workers had a law degree than older workers the requirement of a law degree was itself indirect age discrimination. It is unlikely that Mr Homer will be able to bring any claim on this basis but we are sure that others considering any such claim will bear this in mind.  

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