An employee has won his age discrimination and unfair dismissal claim against his employers after he was nicknamed “Yoda” and made redundant.
Mr Nolan, a service team leader at Evans Halshaw Motorhouse Workshop, complained to an Employment Tribunal that he had been discriminated against and unfairly dismissed after he was made redundant in February 2012.
Mr Nolan, who is 65 this month, was due to retire in January 2013. However, when Mr Brooks – a less senior colleague of Mr Nolan’s who performed practically the same job description – threatened to quit his job in September 2011 he was told that if he stayed on he could have Mr Nolan’s position (which was more senior and better-paid than his own). Mr Brooks therefore agreed to stay. Mr Nolan was not happy about the promises that had been made but decided not to say anything as he didn’t want to rock the boat. However, a round of redundancies was held in February 2012 which resulted in Mr Nolan being made redundant. He was placed in a “pool of one” and dismissed for the reason of redundancy.
After he was dismissed Mr Nolan took employment law advice from employment law solicitors and submitted claims for direct age discrimination, age-related harassment and unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal. He claimed that he had been dismissed for redundancy because of his age and that fair procedures weren’t carried out when he was dismissed. He also claimed that banter in the workplace made fun of him because he was relatively old compared to the other staff. His numberplate was changed to read “OAP” instead of “OAB”, he was referred to as the “104-year-old” service team leader, and told that he resembled “Yoda” (a Star Wars character who is several hundred years old). This was the basis for Mr Nolan’s direct age discrimination and age-related harassment claims.
The Employment Tribunal found in Mr Nolan’s favour in his employment law claims. It found that he had been unfairly dismissed as Mr Brooks should also have been placed in the redundancy pool. The Tribunal also found that he had been discriminated against and harassed because of his age – and drew an inference that he (rather than Mr Brooks) had been dismissed because of his age on the basis of this. However, the Employment Tribunal reduced Mr Nolan’s award of loss of earnings by half to account for the fact that if Mr Nolan had been included in the pool there would have been a 50-50 chance that Mr Nolan (and not Mr Brooks) would have been dismissed for redundancy.
This case demonstrates that employers must be careful not to be seen to condone age-related banter in the workplace – particularly if it causes offence to other employees (regardless of their age). Age discrimination is legally as serious as other forms of discrimination (including sex, disability and race).