An ex-employee has won nearly £100,000 after bosses were found to have overlooked her for promotions because of her age.
An employment tribunal found that Rachel Sunderland, a designer at Superdry, was denied multiple chances at career progression in favour of less experienced colleagues. The case heard that this was partly because, as a woman in her 50s, bosses deemed her a ‘low flight risk’ and was likely to stay at the company “no matter how she was treated”.
The tribunal heard that Sunderland, who worked for the fashion firm between 2015 and 2020, claimed the “recruitment, promotion and recognition of other (younger) individuals... undermined [her] standing within Superdry’s design team”.
Feeling “demoted” by her treatment, Sunderland handed in her notice in July 2020, eventually leaving that September. She told the tribunal that, in the lead up to this, she had felt much frustration and emotional stress, and decided that “enough was enough”.
The court documents said: “She said that she had made herself ill with the stress of the previous year, and couldn’t continue to work in an environment where unreasonable pressure was placed on her, combined with the refusal of management to give her the recognition that she felt her skills and experience deserved. She described feeling humiliated and degraded when junior members of staff asked why she was not a Lead Designer.”
Awarding Sunderland compensation of £96,208.70, employment judge David Hughes concluded: “We find that the decision makers... decided not to promote (Sunderland), and to subject her to an over-demanding workload with little or no real assistance, because she was an excellent designer on whom they could rely to create products that would sell well, and because they judged that there was little risk of her leaving the business no matter how she was treated.
“We find that they probably thought this in significant measure because of her age. We find that a similarly valuable designer who was significantly younger than the Claimant probably would have been promoted to Senior Designer or, later, to Lead Designer.”
Age discrimination in the workplace
According to Ciphr, more than 1 in 10 adults in the UK (11%) say they feel that their age has been a discriminating factor in the workplace and more than 1 in 20 (5.7%) believe they’ve suffered workplace discrimination based on their age.
Furthermore, statistics from the Ministry of Justice found that 3,668 complaints of age discrimination were made to employment tribunals in 2020, a 74% rise from 2,112 in 2019, which marked the largest rise of any type of work-related complaint.
What the law says about age discrimination
As CIPD states, age discrimination has been illegal in the UK since 2006, with the law now incorporated into the Equality Act 2010.
Under this act, age is one of the nine protected characteristics covered by equality legislation. Employers and hiring managers should be aware of the risk of age discrimination occurring in particular workplace activities such as the hiring process.
People of all ages can be affected, including younger and older workers, and the growing number of older people in employment makes this group a key focus.
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According to workers’ union Unison, younger candidates experience age discrimination such as being belittled, passed over for jobs or paid poorly because they are young and deemed inexperienced.
Andrew Secker, Employment Lawyer and Partner at Mills & Reeve, previously told HR Grapevine that ageism “does somewhat appear to be the acceptable face of discrimination for many”.
"With the UK’s workforce aging, we have more generations in the workplace than ever before. Employers will need to address this as part of managing a diverse workforce or else risk facing claims of a similar type,” Secker said.
Denying promotions based on age
Additionally, Acas explains: “An employer must not deny an employee promotion because of their age, perceived age, or because of the age of someone they are associated with. For example, it is likely to be discriminatory to:
Rule out a capable employee to take on extra responsibilities because they are considered to be too young for the new role
Discourage an employee with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience from applying for a more challenging job because of their age
Overlook inviting a colleague of a different age group to the rest of the team to regular socials – the gatherings are affecting decisions back at work about who gets development opportunities and promotion
Allow any bias or stereotypical thinking or assumptions about age to creep into decisions about who gets development opportunities or promotion
An employer should make sure job vacancies and promotion opportunities are mentioned to all relevant staff, no matter what their age.