An Employment Tribunal has held that phrase "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" was not age discrimination. It was just a metaphor.


Mr Khan worked as a Sales Assistant for Adidas UK Ltd (“Adidas”). He was aged in his early 30s. His colleagues tended to be much younger – in their early 20s or less.

Mr Khan raised a grievance alleging bullying, victimisation and harassment. His grievance was investigated and dismissed. During the course of the investigation, allegations were made against Mr Khan himself. These allegations related to, amongst other things, making female staff members cry through aggressive behaviour and declaring himself to be the “king of the store”. These allegations were investigated and a disciplinary meeting was subsequently held. Mr Khan was dismissed.

During the investigation, Mr Khan became aware of comments that had been made by a colleague on a private and confidential basis that they believed he had a problem with women “because he’s from a Muslim country”. When asked whether they thought Mr Khan was capable of changing his behaviour, the colleague (who was not a native English speaker) had stated they believed that “you can’t make a dog’s tail straight”. The investigating officer suggested this was akin to the phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, to which the colleague agreed.

Mr Khan became aware of these comments during his appeal. He subsequently brought a claim of harassment on grounds of age in relation to the “old dog” comment made by the investigator.

Mr Khan brought further claims of harassment on grounds of race in relation to the “Muslim country” comment.


The Employment Tribunal dismissed Mr Khan’s claim of harassment on grounds of age. It found that Mr Khan had wished to use this comment in order to deflect attention from his own poor conduct. The Employment Tribunal held that the “old dog” comment was not related to Mr Khan’s age. It was simply a metaphor to clarify a belief in Mr Khan’s inability to change. For this reason, it rejected Mr Khan’s claim.

The Employment Tribunal also dismissed Mr Khan’s further claim in relation to the “Muslim country” comment. Although this comment was capable of offence, it was not harassment as it had not been made directly to Mr Khan and had been made on a private and confidential basis. It reflected a personal view and did not have the purpose or effect of violating Mr Khan’s dignity or creating a hostile environment.

The judgment is available here.

Mr S Khan -v- Adidas UK Ltd, 1 June 2016, case number 3201318/15