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

Four Oxford professors forced to retire from university at age 68 under a policy designed to promote ‘diversity’ win age discrimination claim

Four academics forced to retire at 68 under a policy designed to promote “diversity” have won their age discrimination lawsuit against Oxford University.

An employment tribunal found that the employer’s justified retirement age policy had a discriminatory effect and could not be legally justified.

All major academics left the university between 2019 and 2021 due to the policy introduced a decade earlier. Some went to work elsewhere instead of retiring.

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

They are in for substantial damage. A future hearing will decide on a remedy unless an agreement is reached with Oxford.

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

A future hearing will decide on a remedy for the academics unless an agreement is reached with Oxford.

A future hearing will decide on a remedy for the academics unless an agreement is reached with Oxford.

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

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

“This was certainly the case in this matter, and we are delighted that the Employment Tribunal has ruled in favor of the teachers.”

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

The Oxford policy was also introduced in 2011 and covered staff ranging from the Deputy Chancellor to senior research staff.

The idea was that it could 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’ 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, set to raise the retirement age to 69 later this year.

By law, an employer can ask employees to retire at a certain age if there is a legitimate purpose behind it.

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

The court panel said the university had not produced evidence to show the success of the policy in creating vacancies.

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

The court concluded that “the overall contribution of the EJRA to the promotion of equality and diversity is very limited.”

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

A spokesman for Oxford University said: “The university has been notified of the court’s ruling. We are currently reviewing the details and considering our next steps, including the option to appeal.

None of the academics were available for comment.