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Direct #age #discrimination in the workplace: Motive is key

by on May 11, 2016

This item in Personnel Today considers the impact of a Court of Appeal judgment on a claim for direct age discrimination involving Canada Life. The claim was brought by Dr Reynolds who was chief medical officer at the company from 1968 until 1992. Thereafter, she continued her work in this role but in a consultancy (not employment) relationship. Following concerns about her performance, the general manager gave Dr Reynolds notice of termination of her consultancy agreement in 2010. They fabricated the reason for the termination in an attempt to soften the blow. It seems that part of the concern centred around her refusal to use email or to change her working methods around the delivery of documents.

The case eventually reached the Court of Appeal which restored  an earlier tribunal decision dismissing her claim for age discrimination. The key finding is the Court’s confirmation that, in cases involving direct discrimination in the workplace, it is the motive of the decision-maker that is important and not those who may have influenced that decision.

In this case, the general manager was found to have come to the decision to terminate the consultancy agreement on his own. The general manager’s comment that Dr Reynolds was incapable of change was found to be unrelated to her age but based on his knowledge of Dr Reynolds and was thus held not to be discriminatory.

If the case had involved a number of individuals making the decision to terminate the consultancy agreement jointly, it would have been necessary to examine the mental processes of each of those individuals. So in essence it seems that it’s the motive of final decision-maker that is key. None of this seems to make it any easier to establish age discrimination.

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