A recent Employment Tribunal decision in which a designer was awarded over £84,000 highlights both the serious consequences of age discrimination and the importance of clear promotion criteria.

Direct age discrimination

Under the Equality Act, a person discriminates against another person if – because of a protected characteristic (such as age) – they treat that person less favourably than they treat or would treat others.

The case

A woman with over 30 years' experience in the fashion business worked as a designer at a fashion brand.

She resigned after becoming frustrated by her treatment at the company.

Her younger, less experienced colleagues had been chosen for promotion over her on a number of occasions.

After covering for a colleague on maternity leave left her doing close to 2 full-time jobs at the busiest design period, she broke down to her manager who told her that the extra work 'could be really good for her'.

She took this to mean it would increase her chances of being promoted. However, her employer still didn't promote her.

The designer claimed at a tribunal that her employer's failure to promote her was direct age discrimination.

The Employment Tribunal

The tribunal ruled that the designer was subject to direct age discrimination.

She was clearly an excellent designer as her employer increased her workload significantly and gave her little or no real assistance.

It also indicated that coping with this workload would help her get promoted.

The tribunal didn't accept her employer's reasons for not promoting her – the 'flawed' promotion criteria used confusing language and left key elements undefined.

One of the promotion criteria was the 'flight risk' of the employee, i.e. the risk of the employee leaving. The designer's flight risk was assessed as low.

The tribunal found that her flight risk was rated low because of her age and this resulted in her employer choosing her younger colleagues with less experience for promotion over her.

This was clear age discrimination as a similarly valuable designer who was significantly younger than her probably would've been promoted.

The tribunal awarded damages for discrimination, unfair dismissal and injury to feelings.

What this means for you

It's important to make sure that your criteria for promotion are clear and transparent so your employees know exactly what they need to do to be promoted.

Doing so will allow you to justify any decision not to promote someone with clear and objective evidence.

You should also train managers to assess employees without letting their personal biases influence their decisions.

If you don't, you may face discrimination claims.