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Football officials win age discrimination claim

Fri 16th Apr 2010 | Legal

Four assistant referees have been found to have been unlawfully discriminated against when they were retired from officiating at top-level football games at the age of 48.

The Sheffield Employment Tribunal found that the Professional Game Match Officials (PGMOL), who appoint referees and assistant referees to Premier League and League football matches, could not justify having a set retirement age for match officials and had provided no justification for setting any such age at 48. 

Robert Martin, John Stokes and Andy Williams were until recently assistant referees on the select group and officiated on matches in the Premier League. Mark Hutchinson was an assistant on the national list officiating on matches in the Championship and Football League. All four were removed having attained the PGMOL retirement age of 48.

The officials, supported by their trade union Prospect, and represented at the hearing by Counsel Declan O’Dempsey, succeeded in their claim that the retirement age and the enforced retirement is discriminatory under the age discrimination law. Several other officials have been given exemptions to continue beyond the retirement age.

The tribunal held that PGMOL could not satisfy the hearing that the retirement age policy it had adopted was a proportionate means to a legitimate aim, such as to justify the disadvantage to the match officials.

The judgment says ‘we cannot be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the means adopted is the only means of achieving their aim and cannot be satisfied that there are not alternatives which are less discriminatory.’

The tribunal also found that even if PGMOL had been justified in having a retirement age they had not satisfied the tribunal that the appropriate age was 48.

Alan Leighton, National Secretary of Prospect said: “This is a significant judgement and we look forward to negotiating new arrangements that ensure the best and fittest officials, regardless of age, are able to officiate at the highest levels, while still providing career opportunities for younger officials. The Tribunal’s decision may also have implications for officials due to retire at the end of this season.”

The four had also claimed that they were employed by PGMOL and that their termination amounted to unfair dismissal, but the tribunal found that they were not employees and could therefore not succeed in an unfair dismissal case.

The Tribunal will set a further hearing shortly to determine the remedy for the four match officials. The case was heard at the Sheffield Employment Tribunal from 12 to 17 March 2010.

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