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Age discrimination: tribunal finds degree requirement for promotion was not justified

In a long-running age discrimination case, an employment tribunal has found that a police force’s requirement that its legal advisers have a law degree to be promoted was not justified.

In Homer v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police [2012] the Supreme Court held that a requirement that a police force’s legal advisers obtain a law degree before they could be promoted to the highest pay grade could be indirect age discrimination against the claimant, who did not have enough time to complete a degree before he reached the employer’s retirement age.

However, the Supreme Court sent the case back to an employment tribunal to decide whether or not the employer’s provision, criterion or practice (PCP) of requiring a law degree to proceed to the third tier of its career grading structure was justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

The employment tribunal referred to the evidence of Mr. Hughes, a HR professional with the employer who had over 15 years’ experience in HR. He stated that, based on his reading of the case law and his understanding of how to maintain employee relations, applying a different pay scheme to new starters, compared with existing staff doing the same job, would have been “illogical and fraught with problems”.

The tribunal concluded that Mr. Hughes had overstated the problems that providing a different remuneration scheme to new starters would have caused. Mr. Hughes had “advanced generalisations in an unconvincing manner”. The tribunal pointed out that it is not uncommon in the current economic climate for employers to offer lower wages and different benefits to younger workers, particularly in relation to pensions.

The employment tribunal did not accept the employer’s argument that the aim of recruiting quality candidates by requiring new recruits to have a law degree meant that it was appropriate or reasonably necessary to require existing staff to have a law degree too. The tribunal concluded that requiring legal advisers to hold a law degree would not have affected the employer’s recruitment aim. The tribunal weighed the number of legal advisers affected (just the claimant) against the damage or disappointment that might result to him and found the PCP to be unjustified.

The legal representatives indicated that Mr. Homer’s compensation could largely be agreed between the parties. A remedy hearing would probably not be necessary.