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Oxford University found to have discriminated against its academics

January 16, 2020
Employment Law

At the beginning of last year, we reported on problems brewing among the dreaming spires of Oxford University. More specifically, whilst most employers have given up on attempting to compulsorily retire their staff, Oxford has persisted with a policy of dismissing academics when they reach its so-called ‘Employer-Justified Retirement Age’ (EJRA),currently 68.

Over recent months, two former Oxford professors have pursued Employment Tribunal claims against the University, arguing that their forced retirement amounted to an act of direct age discrimination.  Interestingly, Prof JohnPitcher’s claim was dismissed back in May 2019; the Employment Tribunal concluded that the university’s retirement policy was lawful in that it was justified by reference to the stated policy aim of improving career progression and diversity amongst its academic staff.  However, more recently, one of Prof Pitcher’s former colleagues, Paul Ewart, has enjoyed more success.  Reading Employment Tribunal has apparently ruled in his favour, concluding that the EJRA represented a “heavily discriminatory measure”.  Given that it only increased academic vacancies by something in the region of 2-4%, the Employment Tribunal concluded that it was disproportionate and could not be lawfully justified.

We now find ourselves with twoEmployment Tribunal judgments which appear to directly contradict each other.  Oxford University is said to be considering its options, including the possibility of an appeal.  However, these cases should certainly give all employers cause to question their own policies and procedures in relation to retirement.

Are you potentially affected by these decisions?

If you still impose compulsory retirement on your employees and wish to discuss the impact of these recent judgments, please get in touch.

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