Costs award awaited for oldest person in the UK who won an age discrimination case

An 88-year-old hospital secretary has become the oldest person in the UK to win an age discrimination case after she was sacked when colleagues complained about her age and “frailty”. 

The employee reported feeling “humiliated” and “degraded” after her employer, an English NHS Trust, dismissed her for allegedly failing to upload details of patients into a new electronic database. 

The employee who started working for the trust in 2005, was a medical secretary to a specialist breast cancer.  An employment tribunal has heard that on returning from holiday on 8 September 2016, the employee was told to meet with the director of operations, where she was informed she was being investigated. She was placed on leave and told collect her things and leave the premises. Following this she received a letter outlining concern regarding her capability due to three errors having occurred in data base input in the last two years. However the employee maintained that she had not ever been spoken to about the first two incidents which were alleged.

When the investigation was carried out, there was no initial interview with the employee and a report was submitted in her absence. The manager also collected and used feedback on the employee from her colleagues, including about her age and mobility, which the tribunal judge said were “inappropriate” and “discriminatory”. 

The tribunal ruled that the employee had been unfairly dismissed, and her discrimination claims on the grounds of age, disability discrimination and breach of contract succeeded.

There are always risks when an employer makes assumptions based on an employee’s age. Rather than judge on age, employers should have systems in place to allow them to evaluate potential and performance, against a clear job description and using objective measurement.

Furthermore, when investigating capability, it is important to conduct proper investigation and establish the areas of incompetence rather than focus on age and the perceived “frailty” which might come with that.  

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