Mr Peters was employed as a company accountant at Rock Chemicals Limited (“Rock Chemicals”) from 29 January 1998 up until his dismissal on 14 January 2015. At the time of his dismissal Mr Peters was 67 years old. Rock Chemicals dismissed Mr Peters on grounds of conduct after finding that a payment of PAYE to HMRC had been missed resulting in a large fine, there had been some discrepancies relating to  fuel stock balances that had not been reported to the Managing Director and dealings with a client which resulted in a loss to the company.

Mr Peters brought claims of unfair dismissal, breach of contract and direct age discrimination against Rock Chemicals. Mr Peters argued that the reason for his dismissal was that Rock Chemicals had wanted him to retire when he reached the age of 65 and Rock Chemicals had already recruited Mr Peters’ replacement in anticipation of this. Mr Peters claimed that he had not formally notified his employer of his intention to retire and prior to his dismissal had no plans to retire. Mr Peters claimed that, once his intentions became clear to Rock Chemicals, Rock Chemicals’ managing director and chairman decided to take action against him and would not otherwise had done so if he had not been over the retirement age.

Rock Chemicals brought a counter-claim against Mr Peters for breach of contract for the amount paid as a penalty to HMRC.

Decision: age discrimination

The ET upheld Mr Peters’s claim of direct age discrimination

The ET found that there was enough evidence to suggest that Mr Peters had suffered age discrimination in relation to the decision to dismiss him. The ET referred to the fact that historical allegations were brought up at a succession planning meeting and also Mr Peters’ colleague was not subjected to an investigatory meeting in relation to the PAYE issue despite the fact that she had been partly responsible for the payment of PAYE. In fact, Mr Peters was the only member of staff to be disciplined for those particular allegations.

Additionally, when the claimant commenced his first period of certified sick leave since starting with the company 14 years previously, Rock Chemicals drafted a letter of instruction to a medical examiner that was explicitly linked to his age and his continuing ability to do his job. Rock Chemicals also subsequently failed to follow the recommendations of two medical reports regarding the facilitation of Mr Peters’ return to work. Whilst he was on sick leave, Rock Chemicals also lied to Mr Peters about his bonus, demanded the return of his company car and refused to provide the information that Mr Peters needed to respond to the allegations against him. The ET found that Rock Chemicals had deliberately “shoe-horned unfounded facts” into the allegations to enable it to dismiss Mr Peters. The reasons Rock Chemicals did this were inextricably linked to a reason related to Mr Peters’ age.

The ET found that Mr Peters had shown enough facts to allow an inference of age discrimination. The burden of proof therefore shifted to Rock Chemicals to show that the reason for the treatment had nothing to do with Mr Peters’ age. When assessing this, the ET found that the witness evidence of the Managing Director and Chairman was unreliable. In addition, another member of staff gave inconsistent evidence in relation to executive committee bonuses. For these reasons, Rock Chemicals was unable to show that the reason for the treatment had nothing to do with Mr Peters’ age. The ET therefore found that age discrimination had occurred.

The ET was unable to identify any justification from Rock Chemicals. Accordingly, the ET upheld Mr Peters’ claim of direct age discrimination.

Decision: other claims

The ET found that Mr Peters had been unfairly dismissed and his claim for breach of contract in relation to his notice pay was well founded. Rock Chemicals’ counter-claim for breach of contract was dismissed.

The judgment is available here.

Mr J Peters v Rock Chemicals Limited t/a Rock Oil Company, 28 January 2016, Case Number 2404460/2015, Employment Tribunal Manchester