We’ve written previous articles about age discrimination at work. But how has the landscape changed since the anti-age discrimination law was brought in?
Is the number of ageism claims declining?
Media outlets recently reported on industrial action between organisations such as RMT, the NHS and the Teacher’s Union. But recent cases of age discrimination at work seem to draw little attention from news outlets. What is it about ageism that seemingly goes unnoticed by the media?
Current statistics on age discrimination at work
One explanation for age discrimination going underreported is that many employees who suffer it decide not to complain in because they are uncertain as to precisely how employment law covers them. Underpinning this is the fear of being unemployable after raising an employment tribunal complaint. A 2021 CIPD survey showed that one in ten people have experienced age discrimination at work or when applying for jobs. The Office for National Statistics Census found that a quarter of respondents who left their jobs during the pandemic struggled with getting new employment because of age discrimination. The fewer claims that are brought against companies, the less media coverage that age discrimination at work receives.
But, as this article shows, age discrimination at work remains a significant issue.
The case of Sunderland v Superdry
The recent employment tribunal case of Sunderland v Superdry Plc highlights age discrimination at work taking place in a well-established business. Ms Rachel Sunderland was a knitwear designer specialist. She sued her employer in an employment tribunal claim after it refused to promote her due to her age. She argued that she was unlawfully denied promotion and overlooked for the role of lead designer because of her age, even after being told that she might be promoted.
In its response Superdry claimed she lacked the fundamental skills required for a lead designer. She said that she had been unfairly scored. However, the judge found that she did in fact have experience in leadership and was disadvantaged when it came to the reviews as the scoring was too complex. The judge also found that the performance review was ‘overwhelmingly positive’ and he found it hard to decipher why she was given a low score. As a result, he found in favour for the claimant and granted her £96,000 in compensatory damages.
Other cases of ageism in the news
Elsewhere, the BBC has also come under fire by one of its former employees, DJ Liz Kershaw, who argued that she was let go was because she was over 60 years old. This is not the first time that the BBC have seen ageism claims. For instance, Sue Barker, a former host of A Question of Sport was replaced with a younger male presenter. These incidents have sparked accusations of discrimination relating to both sex and age. Similarly, a financial adviser sued his firm who rejected him for the CEO role. When he asked the reasoning behind his missed opportunity, he claimed that bosses told him that he was ‘not getting any younger’.
Where does ageism stand in employment law and what do these cases mean?
These examples show how age discrimination at work still goes on at all levels. As the law stands, any form of discrimination towards people of because of their age that can’t be justified is considered unlawful, under the Equality Act 2010. It’s not easy for employers to justify age discrimination.
While the Equality Act does a lot to tackle the issues surrounding ageism and provides a clear framework within which employees can bring claims, age related discrimination remains a prominent feature of UK employment law.
Image courtesy of Starmanseries