Landmark age discrimination win for woman sacked for being too young

An 18-year old woman who claimed that she was dismissed from her job because she was 'too young' has won an age discrimination claim against her former employers, in a case which employers need to be aware about, a Peterborough law firm warned today.

In what is thought to be the first reported case in which an Employment Tribunal has had to apply the law on age discrimination to young workers, Leanne Wilkinson, who worked as an office administrator at a small engineering company was awarded over £16,000 in compensation, after the Tribunal ruled that her employers had treated her less favourably on the grounds of her age.

Miss Wilkinson joined the firm when she was 18, on a probationary period, and claimed that she was dismissed, without notice, 2 months into her job, When her line manager told her that she was too young for the job. The employers resisted the claim, and argued that she has been dismissed because of her performance. Unfortunately their documentary evidence of poor performance was inadequate and not accepted by the Tribunal.

In its ruling, the Tribunal held that the employer relied "upon the stereotypical assumption that capability equals experience and experience equals older age". It went on to award her compensation for over 6 months' loss of earnings before the date of the hearing. Miss Wilkinson had found another job by the date of the hearing, earning less than her previous job, and the Tribunal also awarded her the future difference in earnings for 6 months after the hearing. She also recovered £5,000 compensation as "injury to feelings", and over £200 of interest.

For the employers, that was not the end of the matter. They had failed to put proper employment contracts in place, or give her written details of her employment, and were ordered to pay her an additional 2 weeks' pay as a result. Worse, because they had failed to follow the required disciplinary and dismissal procedures, all of the compensation to which Miss Wilkinson was entitled was increased by 50%. The total award against the employers was over £16,000.

The Tribunal also took the unusual step of ordering the employers to give Miss Wilkinson a reference that is truthful and not misleading and which states that her dismissal was in breach of the age discrimination regulations and that an order was made against the employers. Also, because the employers had failed to deal with the proceedings reasonably, they were, unusually, ordered to pay some of Miss Wilkinson's legal costs. All in all, it was not a good outcome for the employers.

Whilst often thought of as dealing with discrimination against older workers, the age discrimination laws apply equally to younger workers, and prohibit treating a person less favourably than another, on the grounds of age, including in the areas of recruitment, terms of employment, opportunities for promotion, training and benefits. Hundreds of claims have been lodged with tribunals since the new laws were introduced.

John Bates, a Director at Peterborough law firm hc solicitors LLP, and a member of the Employment Lawyers' Association, commented:

" This latest case does not set a legal precedent, but it is a stark reminder that, firstly, age discrimination applies to younger workers and secondly that failing to have the right contracts, policies and procedures, and to keep records, can prove costly. If in doubt, get early advice on the risks to your business, to try to keep you on the right side of the law and help to prevent costly disputes and damage to reputation".

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This article has been prepared for general interest and information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. While all possible care has been taken in the preparation of this article, no responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by the firm or the authors.