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Social Housing Company Not Guilty of Age Discrimination

In the context of a redundancy process, in which workers competed with one another in order to obtain one of the remaining posts, it was reasonable for the employer to expect each of them to look after their own interests. An Employment Tribunal (ET) so ruled in clearing a social housing company of age discrimination (Dixon and Another v South Tyneside Homes Limited).

Keith Dixon and John Thomas Johnson are both in their sixties. In 1979, they began working for South Tyneside Homes Limited, a non-profit-making organisation created and wholly owned by South Tyneside Council for the purpose of managing, maintaining and improving the Council's homes and estates. They were part of the Capital Investment Team (CIT), where Mr Dixon was a building surveyor and Mr Johnson was an asset management officer. They had planned to work until retirement age, but on 12 October 2015, in the midst of deep budget cuts, the company announced its intention to restructure the CIT. Initially, both men applied for an early retirement/voluntary redundancy scheme, assuming they would be accepted, but they were told on 27 November that this was not the case. From 21 October, the Council had made available the person specifications for the 30 jobs that would remain so that those wishing to apply could acquaint themselves with the posts and the criteria for appointment. Interview coaching and support sessions, including how to complete an application form, were held, but neither Mr Dixon nor Mr Johnson had taken advantage of the assistance on offer. Finding themselves without a fall-back position, however, they each applied for a job in the new structure, Mr Dixon for the post of contracts administrator and Mr Johnson for that of asset officer, but they failed to be shortlisted for interview. Neither man sought feedback as to why he had been unsuccessful and, after further attempts at redeployment failed, the two were made redundant.

Mr Dixon and Mr Johnson argued that they were disadvantaged during the recruitment process because of their age and that the company may have viewed younger colleagues as a better long-term investment. Younger employees were more familiar with modern recruitment techniques and how to hone their CVs to meet competency requirements.

In dismissing their claims of age discrimination and unfair dismissal, however, the ET found that of 26 members of staff made redundant, 20 were aged under 60, and one woman over that age had been kept on by the company. It had carried out a fair selection process when recruiting for the remaining jobs, giving each of those threatened with redundancy the same opportunity to show his or her competencies. Success or failure depended on what the candidates put on their application forms. A matrix had then been used to check whether or not the information provided demonstrated that they met the essential criteria identified for the particular role. Both Mr Dixon and Mr Johnson had failed to 'sell themselves', rather relying on their qualifications and experience to 'carry them through' and providing insufficient information on their application forms to demonstrate that they met the stated requirements for the jobs they sought. The reasons given by the company as to why the other candidates were successful were wholly credible and logical, and there was thus no pattern that undermined its assertion that the outcome of the process had nothing to do with age.

Those involved in the selection process were entitled to do all they could in order to stay in their jobs or be redeployed and it was within the band of reasonableness for the company to expect each candidate to look out for themselves, even if that meant keeping their job at the expense of someone else losing theirs. It had also done enough to fulfil its obligation to offer them alternative posts before dismissing them.

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