17 April 2012
Leigh Day & Co lawyers Elizabeth George and Nigel Mackay successfully represented Mr Methuen in the Court of Appeal case (Community Law Clinic Solicitors Ltd and Others -v- Methuen  All ER (D) 23 (Apr)). Mr Methuen, a solicitor with twenty-five years post qualification experience was dismissed in 2009 and replaced with a solicitor some twenty years his junior. He issued employment tribunal proceedings, which included a claim for age discrimination.
Mr Methuen’s former employer argued that the age difference was coincidental and that the decision to recruit a less experienced lawyer was motivated by cost considerations – she was cheaper. On this basis, they sought to have Mr Methuen’s claim struck out. Having failed to secure a strike out decision in the Employment and Employment Appeal Tribunals, a third attempt was made by the employer to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and ruled that the case should be allowed to proceed to a full merits hearing before the Employment Tribunal because only with a full examination could it be determined whether there were facts from which a Tribunal could infer age discrimination.
The result is important on two fronts. Firstly, it is a reminder that discrimination claims will rarely be founded on direct or obvious evidence (the days of overt discriminatory language in the workplace are now, thankfully, few and far between) and so it is necessary for the Tribunal to examine the facts to see if discrimination can be inferred. Secondly, that examination can only properly be undertaken at a full merits hearing and only those claims where there are no facts at all from which discrimination could be inferred, should be prevented from going forward.
While age will, in some cases, be coincidental to the issue of post qualification experience, in this case, there were disputes of fact about the true reason for dismissal which if proven by Mr Methuen, raised the spectre of age discrimination.
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