Firefighters and judges win pension age discrimination case

Firefighters and a group of 230 judges have won their legal case against the government that changes made to their pension schemes were discriminatory.

The two cases were ruled on together due to overlapping similarities, and earlier conflicting outcomes at Employment Tribunals.

The Fire Brigades Union, which undertook legal action on behalf of firefighters, described it as a “landmark ruling”. Changes were made to the firefighters’ pension scheme in 2015, and the FBU argued that the protection imposed on younger members was unlawful on age discrimination grounds.

The 2015 changes meant that older members could stay in the existing and better pension scheme, and younger members had to transfer to a new and worse scheme, causing huge financial losses. The FBU initiated over 6,000 Employment Tribunal claims alleging that the changes amounted to unlawful age discrimination.

The challenge from the 230 judges, represented by law firm Leigh Day, involved similar circumstances when they challenges the government’s decision to force younger judges to leave the Judicial Pension Scheme.

The judges argued that this was discriminatory on the ground of age. Because of recent drives to increase diversity in the Judiciary, many more of those in the younger group of judges are female and/or from a BAME background, and so claims were also pursued for indirect race discrimination and a breach of the principle of equal pay.

Commenting on the result, FBU general secretary, Matt Wrack, said: “We are delighted that we have won and our arguments have been vindicated by the Court of Appeal. This result is testament to the resilience and fortitude of our members - it’s a great Christmas present to thousands of firefighters. The attacks were a disgraceful robbery from hard working firefighters. The Tory/Lib Dem government took no notice of the detailed evidence we provided about the specific nature of firefighters’ work.

“An occupational pension should be based on the realities of that occupation. The government ignored this. They then introduced transitional protection arrangements which were not agreed with firefighters. We have fought a long and arduous legal battle to show that these transitional arrangements were unfair and discriminatory. The government has wasted taxpayers money on this legal case. The government must now take swift and tangible action to address this unlawful policy.”

A previous Employment Tribunal on the firefighters' case in February 2017 ruled that the changes were not discriminatory. However, an Employment Tribunal on judges pensions ruled that the changes were discriminatory. As a result, the two cases were combined.

The government appealed the judges' ruling but it was dismissed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in January 2018. The government then appealed to the Court of Appeal, which today, 20 December, rejected the government’s argument.

The judgment is expected to have an impact on other public sector groups also being represented by Leigh Day who have seen similar changes to their pension schemes such as police officers. It also applies to other public sector workers such as those employed by the NHS, teachers and prison officers. 

Leigh Day solictor, Shubha Banerjee, who is acting on behalf of the judges, said: “We are extremely pleased with today’s judgment which upholds our clients’ grave concerns about the discriminatory effect of the changes that a previous Lord Chancellor made to their pensions in 2015. 

“Many public sector workers including judges had been working towards and planning for their retirement based on membership of their former pension scheme, only for those plans to be completely disregarded once the Government’s discriminatory changes were brought in.

“We do hope that the Ministry of Justice will recognise the fact that three courts have now found its actions discriminatory and will now take steps to resolve this matter as quickly as possible.”

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