Senior Daily Telegraph journalist Andrew Gimson has lost a case claiming that he was unfairly dismissed after more than seven years as the newspaper's main parliamentary sketchwriter on the grounds of ageism.
The London central employment tribunal found on Thursday that the 54-year old's age discrimination case was "implausible".
It said that the Daily Telegraph's desire to move Gimson to a new role writing leaders could not have had anything to do with his age.
"The fact that the claimant was replaced by a much younger man is, to our minds, the only age-related detail capable in principle of supporting an inference, but, in the context of the evidence as a whole, we think that it adds very little, if anything," said the judge, AM Snelson.
"We conclude that the claimant falls short of establishing a prima facie case," he added.
Gimson had claimed in a tribunal in June that his contract had been terminated last October to make way for a writer who was 20 years younger.
He accused the paper's editor, Tony Gallagher, of "brusque and bullying" behaviour and said the paper needed some form of training on equal opportunities.
However, the Daily Telegraph argued that the new parliamentary sketchwriter, Michael Deacon, was a standout talent and that it had wanted Gimson to bolster its leader-writing team.
The publisher said staffing decisions were the editor's prerogative and said it was "fanciful" of a man of Gimson's intelligence to believe that if he did not accept the request to move position his contract would be terminated.
Siding with the Daily Telegraph, Snelson said the paper for "no doubt very good reason" saw Gimson as "the answer to the problem" and "confidently expected that he would accept the invitation to move".
Snelson added: "To their discomfiture, he implacably refused the offer and insisted on retaining his sketchwriting role, leaving them with an unpalatable choice between allowing him to impose his will on the organisation or terminating his contract."
The tribunal heard that Gimson felt he had been "kicked in the teeth" when asked to switch roles. "Instead of being treated as one of the paper's established stars for whom some readers looked first when they opened the paper, I was being offered a role where most of my work would be invisible," he said in his witness statement.
He claimed that Gallagher was already minded to get rid of him judging by an internal email.
Former Telegraph editor Charles Moore described Gimson as a "brilliant sketch-writer" in a column in the Spectator magazine.
The tribunal heard that Gallagher responded by sending an email about Gimson to a colleague saying: "He's moving or fired. Moore is a twat."
Having decided Gimson had failed to prove he was being moved on the grounds of his age, the tribunal said: "Mr Gallagher told us, convincingly we think, that he took the view that it would be intolerable for the claimant to dictate to him on editorial matters. He did not strike us as an editor willing to be dictated to ... these events fully explain the termination of the engagement. For these reasons the age discrimination claim fails."
Snelson said that it followed that Gimson's breach of contract claim should be dismissed.
However, he added that its decision "should not be seen as holding the claimant has been reasonably treated, still less as a vindication of editorial and managerial decisions". It noted the evidence, but said "such matters are not for us".
It added: "We acknowledge [Gimson's] sincere belief that some unlawful motivation may lurk behind it, but his claims fail because we are satisfied that his legal rights were not infringed."
The decision will be a major blow to Gimson, who told the tribunal that his sacking had caused his family financial stress. He had moved onto an interest-only mortgage and had stopped making pension payments. His overdraft stood at "£6,000 and rising".
Article from The Guardian
For a copy of the judgment, go to our cases section