Age Discrimination In Partnerships – Supreme Court Rules For Law Firm

The Supreme Court has passed judgement in Seldon v Clarkson Wright and Jakes in what is a landmark discrimination case for partnerships.

Mr Seldon was a partner in a law firm the partnership agreement for which contained a policy that partners must retire upon attaining the age of 65. When Mr Seldon reached that age he was given his notice. When his request to work on was rejected he brought proceedings against the partnership on the grounds of age discrimination.

The question for the Employment Tribunal was whether or not the partnership had used ‘proportionate means’ of achieving a ‘legitimate aim’ in having and enforcing the compulsory retirement age. 

In the UK, age discrimination law is set out in the 2006 Age Regulations. Under the Regulations it is unlawful for partnerships to perform certain acts of discrimination, age bring one of the factors on which a partner may be discriminated against. In her judgement however, Lady Hale held, that “where it is justified to have a general rule [such as a compulsory retirement age], then the existence of that rule will usually justify the treatment which results from it.”

It was stressed that once the particular aim is identified, it must be legitimate in the particular circumstances of the partnership concerned.

All businesses (including partnerships) will now have to give careful consideration to what, if any, mandatory retirement rules can be justified in their particular business.  Not long ago it was common practice to include a retirement age as a matter of course without having to justify it.  Anyone taking that attitude now might not do as well as Mr Seldon’s former partners if a claim were to be made against them.

Forbes Solicitors’ Business Law Team can assist with providing partnerships (both limited and unlimited) with advice on a range of matters concerning their ownership agreements and succession arrangements in the light of the Seldon judgment. To see what effects both this and the recent judgment in Homer v Chief Constable of West Yorskshire Police (which upheld an age discrimination complaint) have from an employment standpoint, check out the piece from our Employment Law colleagues elsewhere on the Forbes Commercial Blog.

Daniel Milnes

About Daniel Milnes

Dan is a Partner and Head of Contracts & Projects. Dan’s blogs cover the areas in which his specialities lie in commercial, regulatory and governance law which cover a broad range of matters dealing with contracts, projects, corporate and group structures, funding and compliance with a range of legal regimes including data protection. This also involves writing and advising on various forms of commercial contracts including joint ventures, development and construction agreements and intellectual property contracts including IT agreements, sponsorships and other rights licensing arrangements.
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