A 63 year old Director of a law firm whose retirement was referred to as “the elephant in the room” had not been subjected to direct age discrimination.
Mr Wilson worked for Wilson Devonald Griffiths John Limited (WDGJ), a law firm formed after a merger between Mr Wilson’s previous firm Wilson Devonald Limited and another firm called Griffiths John. Both firms were criminal law specialists.
Mr Wilson was a Director at WDGJ and his role involved managing Crown Court files and instructing counsel. Due to the merger, WDGJ had more Higher Court advocates at its disposal and could do more advocacy work in-house. WDGJ therefore had a reduced need for instructing counsel and for the sort of work done by Mr Wilson.
A finance review conducted by WDGJ’s bank in early 2015 suggested that retirement ages be set for WDGJ’s Directors. It recommended a retirement age of 70 years old for Mr Wilson and 65 years old for all other Directors (at the time, their ages ranged from 38 to 51 years old).
A meeting was held on 9 March 2015 to discuss the finance review. Mr Wilson’s retirement was raised at this meeting. Mr Wilson’s retirement was referred to as the “elephant in the room” by one director whilst another stated “It’s nothing personal but you are the oldest”. No decisions were made at this meeting.
Mr Wilson felt that the atmosphere in the office changed after this meeting. He felt “under threat” and told the other Directors that he would leave. WDGJ agreed to pay Mr Wilson a salary and dividends up to 31 December 2015, although he would not be required to work during this time. Some payments towards the end of the year were not made.
Mr Wilson brought a claim of direct age discrimination in relation to his treatment and exit from the firm.
The Tribunal dismissed Mr Wilson’s age discrimination claim.
The Tribunal ruled that the age discrimination claim was a “retrospective concoction” for the failure of the firm to maintain the payment of his salary and dividends until 31 December 2015. The Tribunal stated that the topic of retirement was bound to arise when discussed within the context of the meeting on 9 March, especially considering Mr Wilson was self-evidently the closest to retirement as he was 61 years old at the time.
The Tribunal held that Mr Wilson had placed too much reliance on the comments made at the 9 March meeting, which was the only evidence available to suggest the slightest possibility of age discrimination. The Tribunal deemed it impossible to conclude that the comments formed a reason for the directors to dispense with Mr Wilson’s services and therefore his claim of age discrimination must fail.
Mr Wilson brought a claim of constructive unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and failure to pay holiday. These were also dismissed.
Mr Paul Wilson v Wilson Devonald Griffiths John Limited, 31 March 2017, Cardiff Employment Tribunal, Case Number 1600416/2016