Four Oxford dons forced to retire under ‘diversity’ policy win age discrimination claim

Four Oxford dons forced to retire by university at age 68 under ‘diversity’ policies win ageism claim

Four academics forced to retire at age 68 over policies promoting ‘diversity’ have won their age discrimination claim against Oxford University.

The employer-justified retirement age policy was held by an employment tribunal to have a discriminatory effect and could not be legally justified.

The senior academics all left the university between 2019 and 2021 due to the policy introduced ten years earlier. Some went to work elsewhere instead of retiring.

Nicholas Field-Johnson, 71, head of development in continuing education; Bent Flyvbjerg, 70, a professor at Said Business School; Philip Candelas, 71, the Rouse Ball chief of mathematical physics; and Duncan Snidal, 69, a professor of international relations, have successfully joined forces to challenge the university’s ageism policy to force them into retirement.

They are about to receive hefty compensation. A future hearing will decide on a solution unless a deal is struck with Oxford.

Pictured (L-R): The Radcliffe Camera, the Codrington Library, Hertford College (Old Quadrangle) and All Souls’ College, Oxford

The verdict has not yet been published, but was revealed by lawyers representing three of the academics.

Their lawyer Simon Henthorn, a partner at Doyle Clayton, said: ‘In our experience it is difficult for employers to legally retire employees.

‘That was certainly the case in this case and we are pleased that the Labor Court has ruled in favor of the professors.’

Employers used to be able to force employees to retire at age 65, but this default retirement age was abolished in 2011, allowing most to continue working if they wanted or needed to.

Oxford policies were also introduced in 2011 and included staff ranging from the Vice-Chancellor to senior research staff.

The idea was that it might be justified, as the goal was to promote “equality and diversity” by opening up new jobs to a younger generation that is likely to be more diverse than the existing workforce.

The university claimed that “refreshing” its academic and research staff would help it “maintain its rich academic environment and foster innovation.”

But this latest legal challenge has cast doubt on the policy – which aims to raise the retirement age to 69 later this year.

Under the law, an employer can ask employees to retire at a certain age for a legitimate purpose.

In this case, the tribunal ruled that the policy could not be justified in this way.

The tribunal panel said the university had provided no evidence to demonstrate the policy’s success in creating job openings.

The figures provided showed that ‘nine out of ten’ vacancies for statutory and associate professors would have arisen had the EJRA not existed.

The tribunal concluded that ‘the overall contribution of the EJRA to promoting equality and diversity is very limited’.

Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews are the only universities to have introduced such age-related pension rules.

A spokesman for the University of Oxford said: ‘The university has been informed of the tribunal’s ruling. We are currently reviewing the details and considering our next steps, including the possibility of an appeal.”

None of the academics could be reached for comment.