Tribunal rules age discrimination can be justified in partnerships

The Employment Tribunal has rejected an age discrimination claim by lawyer Leslie Seldon against his former firm Clarkson Wright & Jakes (CWJ), bringing to an end five-year legal battle that reached the Supreme Court.


Seldon first instructed BP Collins partner Jo Davis to launch a case against CWJ in March 2007 after it enacted its partnership agreement and forced him to retire at the age of 65. He argued that the firm could not justify the retirement and therefore discriminated against him (7 July 2010).

The case then went to the Court of Appeal (CoA) (29 July 2010) and the Supreme Court (25 April 2012), with the courts debating upon what grounds a firm can justify retiring a partner.

From the CoA stage Seldon’s case has been funded by the Equalities & Human Rights Commission, with Cloisters’ Robin Allen QC instructed for the Supreme Court hearing. Allen led 36 Bedford Row’s Richard O’Dair, who represented Seldon at the latest tribunal hearing having been instructed by the EHRC.

The Supreme Court ruled that Seldon’s firm did have some valid reasons for having a mandatory retirement age for partners. However, it referred the case back to the Employment Tribunal to consider whether forcing partners to leave after their 65th birthday was appropriate and necessary.

In this latest bout, the tribunal considered the remitted issues concerning whether a mandatory retirement age of 65 in the partnership deed of was justified direct age discrimination.

It held that the retirement age was justified at the time that Seldon retired in 2006 because of the need to reflect the expectations of the partners and associates, ensure succession and fulfil the needs of the partnership. It also found that the consent of the partners to the clause was particularly relevant, as was the fact that at the time of retirement the Default Retirement Age for employees was 65.

“While the position might have been different if the relevant date had been after the abolition of the default retirement age and after the planned changes in the state pension age the tribunal is satisfied that the mandatory retirement ago is appropriate and reasonably necessary,” the tribunal ruled.

For the claimant Seldon

36 Bedford Row’s Richard O’Dair instructed by the EHRC

For the defendant CWJ

Blackstone Chambers’ Tom Croxford and Emily Neill