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Assistant Referees Suffered Age Discrimination

23 March 2011 #Employment

The ET has held in Martin and others v Professional Match Game Officials Ltd ET/2802438/08 that four assistant referees who were forced to retire at 48 were subjected to age discrimination but were not unfairly dismissed.

The Respondent Company provides match officials (referees) to the Football League.  There are a number of tiers for officials, including the "select list" and the "national list" which are controlled by the Respondent.
It is the Respondent`s policy that all officials who turn 48 during a season are removed from the select or national lists. Removal is subject to a right to request to retrain, which can be rejected. Once they are removed from the list they can no longer work.
The Claimants were removed from the lists and were not allowed to work after their 48 birthdays. The Respondent stated that this decision was based on an evaluation of their performance over the past seasons. The four Claimants` filed claims for age discrimination and automatic unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal.
The Respondent argued that the unfair dismissal claims could not be pursued as the Claimants did not have employment status. The Tribunal agreed and these claims were dismissed.

Regarding the age discrimination claims, it was accepted by the Respondent that the retirement age was potentially discriminatory, but it was argued that it was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim and so justified. 
The Tribunal found that the Respondent did have a legitimate aim of creating a career route from the bottom to the top of the game for match officials of appropriate ability.  However they did not agree that the forced retirement of officials at age 48 was proportionate and as such the age discrimination claims succeeded. The Tribunal also commented that there had been no evidence presented to suggest why 48 was a reasonable age to retire officials, as opposed to any other age. This also meant the policy was discriminatory.

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