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Oxford professors win age discrimination case

An employment tribunal has ruled that Oxford University was "not legally justified" in forcing four academics to retire at age 68.

The four were told they had to leave under the University of Oxford’s Employer Justified Retirement Age (EJRA) policy, which was put in place to improve diversity and succession rate for younger staff.

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The four academics all left the university between 2019 and 2021 because of the policy.

They are Nicholas Field-Johnson, formerly the head of development for the department of continuing education; Bent Flyvbjerg, a former professor in the Saïd Business School; Philip Candelas, formerly the Rouse Ball head of mathematical physics; and Duncan Snidal, a former professor in international relations.

The tribunal's judgement stated that the EJRA was not a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aims of equality and diversity and judges said Oxford had “not made any attempt to measure the effect of the EJRA on actual vacancy creation”.

The tribunal stated: “The EJRA means that an individual is dismissed on attainment of a particular age. That is, on the face of it, about the most extreme discriminatory impact possible in the realms of employment.”

In 2019, Paul Ewart won a similar age discrimination case against the University after being forced to retire at 69. Ewart was reinstated in his role and given almost £30,000 in damages.

Luke Price, senior research and policy manager at the charity Centre for Ageing Better, says that the case reiterates employees’ abilities should never be judged by their age.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Increasing diversity in the workforce means employers widening the pool of skills and talents at their disposal. It does not mean excluding people from employment because of their age.

“Older workers’ rights are enshrined in law, age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, and must be respected by all employers.”

Price said that older people making valuable contributions to their employers should have the freedom to decide for themselves how long they wish to continue working.

He said: “While working beyond state pension age might not be suitable for all, for many it can be a valuable opportunity to earn additional income, boost pension pots, remain physically and socially active as well as making a valuable contribution to their employer and the UK economy more broadly. This should not be discouraged.”

The University of Oxford said: “The University has been notified of the tribunal’s ruling. We are currently reviewing the details and considering our next steps, including the option of appeal.”