BA attacks ‘back door’ age bias case

British Airways (BA) has accused a group of former staff members bringing a claim for sexual discrimination of trying to bring an age discrimination case “by the back door.”

The former BA staff are challenging the airline’s compulsory retirement age of 55 on the grounds that it is unlawful and discriminatory against women.

In written submissions to the Watford Employment Tribunal, BA claims: “The claims raised a number of issues, including a line of argument analogous to that pursued in Rutherford (age discrimination by the back door).” Age discrimination legislation is not set to come into force until 2006.

However, Charles Russell associate Paul Quain, who is running the case for the claimants, rejects the allegations. “There’s a strong precedent to support this argument,” he said. “If you introduce a rule which has a much worse impact on one sex than the other, and you can’t justify it, that’s discriminatory. The fact that it might have an impact in another area like age doesn’t detract from that.” Quain does admit, though, that the BA case would be brought under age discrimination if the legislation was already in force.

The hearing, which began on Monday 12 January, continued for seven days and will resume in late February.

Charles Russell instructed Robin Allen QC of Cloisters. BA is being represented by Stephanie Dale of Denton Wilde Sapte, instructing Fountain Court’s Nicholas Underhill QC.

The BA case echoes the much publicised Rutherford case, on which Allen and Charles Russell are also acting. In Rutherford, two retired tailors have brought an action against the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, arguing that the UK Government’s assumed retirement age of 65 is discriminatory against men. The Court of Appeal will hear the case in late March.