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O’Reilly wins on age but not sex

12 January 2011

Former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly successfully argued at an employment tribunal yesterday that she was a victim of age discrimination by the BBC. However, her claims of sex discrimination failed.

O’Reilly, 53, claimed that she had been unfairly dropped from the rural affairs show when it moved to a primetime slot on Sunday evenings in 2008.

She said that following her decision to launch legal proceedings against the BBC, the corporation offered her very little other work as a presenter.

One of the few jobs she was offered was an episode of the Radio Four series Costing the Earth on the ‘environmental cost of ageing’.

O’Reilly said that the new presenters chosen for Countryfile, such as Katie Knapman and Julia Bradbury, were in their thirties.

Employment judge Tayler at Central London employment tribunal said the discrimination against O’Reilly was not justified.

“The wish to appeal to a primetime audience, including younger viewers, is a legitimate aim,” he said. “However, we do not accept that choosing younger presenters is required to appeal to such an audience. It is not a means of achieving that aim.”

Judge Tayler said the tribunal rejected the argument that O’Reilly had been a victim of both age and sex discrimination because she would not have been retained if she was a man of the same age.

He said that if she had been a man the “element of comparative youth” required by the second-tier presenters on the show would have been missing.

The judge said the decision to offer O’Reilly a radio programme on the ‘environmental cost of ageing’ was deliberate and there had not been failure to anticipate that this might have been antagonising when she was complaining about age discrimination.

Camilla Palmer, partner at Leigh Day & Co, acted for O’Reilly. “Miriam has won a great victory, not only for herself but all older people in the media,” she said. “This has huge implications for all broadcasters, not just the BBC. The lesson is that presenters should be selected for their ability, not their age.”

Palmer added: “Miriam has been so brave to take this case. She took it on behalf of a lot of other people because she believed it was the right thing to do.”

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Company, Consumer, and Contract Procedures Discrimination