Oxford university professors launch age discrimination claim over retirement policy

University of Oxford - oversnap
University of Oxford - oversnap

University of Oxford professors have launched an age discrimination claim against their employer for forcing them to retire at the age of 68.

A group of professors are preparing to challenge the retirement policy at an employment tribunal hearing in November. The London law firm Doyle Clayton is representing them.

The challenge comes after an internal review recommended that academic-related staff, including researchers and administrative employees, be removed from the scope of the university’s retirement policy, called the “Employer Justified Retirement Age”. However, the policy has not yet been updated.

Simon Henthorn, a partner at Doyle Clayton, said: “Academic-related staff at Oxford who are forced to retire at 68 on Friday will have very strong claims for age discrimination and will have little option but to litigate if they want compensation.

"Surely it cannot be right for an individual to still lose their job when it has been recommended by their employer that their role be excluded from the ambit of their employer’s forced retirement policy.”

UK employers have not been able to force workers to retire in their mid-60s since 2011, when the default retirement age was abolished, unless they can objectively justify it.

Oxford has maintained a fixed retirement age. Employees are able to apply to extend their employment for a fixed term after they turn 69, but only if they meet certain criteria, including relinquishing their existing role and being able to fully fund their continuing employment.

Previous discrimination claims taken against university

In 2020, Prof Paul Ewart, the former head of atomic and laser physics, successfully won a discrimination claim against the university for forcing him out because of his age. He was awarded £30,000 in compensation and was re-employed by the university.

However, he failed in his attempt to have the tribunal order Oxford to abolish its retirement policy.

In another case that year, Prof John Pitcher, a leading Shakespeare scholar and fellow at St John’s College at Oxford, was unsuccessful in his discrimination claim after he said that he had been unfairly pushed out at age 67 to make way for younger and more ethnically diverse academics. An employment tribunal ruled that his dismissal was fair.

A spokesman for Oxford University said: “After extensive consultation with staff from across the University, changes have been proposed for the Employer Justified Retirement Age scheme, subject to approval this term by Congregation, the University’s sovereign body.

“Staff have been fully informed of the proposed changes at this stage and, if approved, transition arrangements will be put in place to ensure fairness in implementing the changes.”