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U.K. Supreme Court Upholds Rights of Law Firm to Enforce Compulsory Retirement
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On Wednesday, the U.K. Supreme Court dismissed a challenge by a retired partner against a law firm forcing him to retire compulsorily at the age of 65. The U.K. Supreme Court, unlike the law in U.S., held that the law firm was entirely within its rights to enforce compulsory retirement based upon age. While dismissing the appeal by Leslie Seldon in the landmark case of Seldon v. Clarkson Wright & Jakes, however, Justice Hale warned employers that they should carefully consider their policies. She said “There is … a distinction between justifying the application of the rule to a particular individual, which in many cases would negate the purpose of having a rule, and justifying the rule in the particular circumstances of the business. All businesses will now have to give careful consideration to what, if any, mandatory retirement rules can be justified.”

Regardless of warnings and all, the crux of the matter is that the dismissal of the appeal by the U.K. Supreme Court strengthens the arms of law firms in U.K. law firms to manage their partnerships by compulsory retirement policies.

The ruling laid to rest a legal battle that started in 2007 when Seldon, a partner of Clarkson Wright & Jakes claimed that creating a compulsory retirement age of 65 meant age discrimination. The matter first went before the employment tribunal, which rejected the claim, and then the Court of Appeal, last year.

  
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Seldon’s demand to be allowed to remain with the law firm as a salaried partner after crossing the age of 65 was rejected by the firm and now by the courts. However, the story would continue because despite its dismissal, the U.K. Supreme Court sent the case back to the Employment Tribunal to consider whether the choice of retirement at the age of 65 was discriminatory.

The question of law at issue was whether age as a condition of mandatory retirement constituted discrimination, and whether age can be considered under the law as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate business objective. Given last year’s legal abolition of the default retirement age in U.K, the case had garnered extra attention from the public.

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