Major blow for age discrimination rules

age discrimination/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Age discrimination is supposed to be outlawed in the workplace. You aren't allowed to discriminate on the grounds of age when it comes to hiring and firing, redundancy, retirement, opportunities and training.

However, a court ruling means that employers may be able to get away with ignoring the rules.

The case

The case in question has been going through the courts for the last three years - and the most recent ruling was from the appeals court. It decided in favour of an NHS Trust, which had dismissed its chief executive at the age of 49, to avoid him becoming entitled to hugely enhanced pension benefits (worth about £1 million) when he hit the age of 50.

Nigel Woodcock, who was dismissed back in 2009, brought a case on the basis of age discrimination. However, his employer argued that it had not only made the move to save money, but that his role was redundant anyway

The court found in favour of the NHS Trust.

The implications

Catherine Wilson, employment partner with lawyer Thomas Eggar says this doesn't open the door to firing purely on the grounds of cost.

She explains: "Cost in itself is not a get-out clause. A major factor in this case was that his post had been made redundant in a massive restructuring exercise. If they had just decided to sack him and replace him with someone cheaper I doubt it would have had the same outcome. This is a case of 'costs-plus'." This is where cost has been put into the balance of considerations along with other factors.

It is a landmark case in one sense, in that it establishes a clear example of where the cost of keeping an older and more expensive employee can be put in the balance with other valid considerations. Wilson says this could be a issue in any number of discrimination cases. Adding: "We know that in reality cost is always a factor."

However she adds: "These cases turn to a great extent on their own facts, so there is a question over how much of a landmark this really is."

Advertising's most ageist ads
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Major blow for age discrimination rules

It's not clear how old the Italian Mediterranean woman is at the helm of her elderly convertible. But clearly by using an olive-oil based spread on her ciabatta, she can still drive at a good clip.

The ageism is more subtle here. Imagine, an older lady still able to drive quickly and competently! And actually enjoying the experience. Sure, it's not offensive as some ageist ads, but it's a tad patronising. Welcome to ad-land.

In the 1930s, anyone more than 40 was definitely middle aged and in need of Phyllosan. Fortifies the over 40s was one of the taglines. Phyllosan ads had the job of informing consumers their pills would restore "digestive and metabolic tone strengthening the nerves and energy."

There's an implied sense of threat here too. The grim-faced doctor won't have much time with a 40-year old male who hesitates to buy this "life-changing" medicament. Be responsible; you're officially middle aged. Buckle down.

Here's another ageist piece of marketing. The hugely cash-generative insurance industry makes a lot of its money out of our own insecurities - and this ad is true to type.

But a few wrinkles are part of ageing. It's not necessarily about being worried. How about laughter lines? Not a pitch that wouldn't have gone down well in a client planning meeting, though given the financial crisis we've been through, some lightening up would have been a useful corrective.

However dreary becoming 40-plus might be, imagine how dire it was to be female and 50. Here, Mrs Georgina Weldon is truly verging on old maid-dom. However thanks to Pears soap, the ad claims her skin is like a 17-year-old.

How many 17-year-olds dressed like that, even in the late 19th century? Mrs Georgina Weldon was, in fact a "real life" case study. She was also a well-known litigant and fighter for female conjugal rights. A clever women also known as 'Portia of the Law Courts'.

But Georgina, that hat...

Now roll forward 120 years to this Dove soap (made by Unilever) ad; it caused a lot of chatter in the US, with the authorities even part-banning the ad. The woman here is not caked in make-up or soap. Although there's probably some touching up done, it's remarkably natural-looking.

Message: it's still okay and attractive to seek older people with no clothes. Too radical for some shocked Americans, though.

Yet some older women - even late middle age, even older - remain beautiful, vigorous and attractive, as in this Age Concern ad. But though you can see Age Concern's point, many old people look old because they are old. Not all older women would want to wear just a black satin bra on the front page of a newspaper.

Does it make us think about age or ageism in a different way? Or is it more she looks good considering she's 60-odd? Age Concern's grey boob.

Or how about this Lucozade ad aimed at older men? You might be pushing 80 but you can still pull if you drink sugar-loaded Lucozade. Pretty crude. This ad apparently was originally shot with an older woman flanked by two semi-naked males.

However the editor of FHM didn't think his mag would appreciate the grey-haired older woman - and asked her to be replaced by a man. Ageist and sexist!

This Spar ad is just awful, isn't it? The husband has lost his wine gums (gums). The wife can't find her ball of wool. But a quick trip - or hobble - to Spar and back and everything is okay. Note husband's gummy smile and wife's dowdy get-up.

The first is a neat little bit of clever reverse ageism from Elizabeth Arden. The woman in the picture is not just married (well, divorced) but dating a man younger than her son. She's independent, confident and apparently in control.

And confident enough to admit the current romantic arrangements.
You could criticise it for reviving the cliche of the fast older woman more interested in sex or shock value. A positive image? Sort of. And some way from the overweight bespectacled country bumpkin we started with.

Lastly, an older, grey-haired woman happy in her own skin complete with studded belt, (hand?) knitted top and punk-style tartan trousers. Let's hope Samsung sold a ton more washing machines through this ad. A confident, modern, energetic older woman. A rare find.


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