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Seldon decision will benefit law firms

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Seldon case provides law firms and other professional partnerships with long-awaited certainty on the issue of age discrimination, says Harrison Clark partner Robert Capper.

26 April 2012

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“We very much welcome the Supreme Court’s decision on this case,” he said. “At last, professional partnerships now have guidance about how to handle the important but delicate issues of retirement and in turn succession planning. Firms can, for example, now confidently ensure that younger employees have the opportunity to become a partner after a reasonable period. Forward planning is aided by having a better idea of when vacancies will arise, and the possibility of having to expel partners is reduced.”

The court yesterday (25 April 2012) dismissed unanimously an appeal by Leslie Seldon, a solicitor who was told to retire by his employer just after his 65th birthday, in line with the terms of his partnership agreement. Seldon, a partner at Kent-based Clarkson Wright & Jakes argued that the decision to make him retire was age discrimination.

However, the employer argued that there were legitimate aims for its retirement policy, namely that it gave associates an opportunity of partnership within a reasonable timeframe and therefore an incentive to stay. It also allowed it to plan recruitment and promotion by knowing when vacancies would occur and to limit the need to expel underperforming partners, contributing to a congenial and supportive culture within the firm.

The Supreme Court’s decision means that employers can continue to set the age at which their staff retire, but only if they can prove there is strong justification for doing so. These include:

  • promoting access to employment for younger people;

  • facilitating the participation of older workers in the workforce;

  • the efficient planning for the departure and recruitment of staff;

  • avoiding disputes about the employee’s fitness for work over a certain age.

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