A tribunal has upheld a 42 year older banker’s claims for age discrimination, unfair dismissal and protective awards against one of the largest banks in Canada, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (“CIBC”). The banker, who earned £900,000 a year, had been dismissed last year amid the financial crisis.
CIBC dismissed Mr Beck, who was Head of Marketing in London, on the pretext of a wider redundancy programme. However, it was actively seeking a replacement with a “younger, entrepreneurial profile”. The bank’s HR department had warned that the word “younger” was inappropriate but the warning was dismissed on the basis that the intended meaning of the word was seniority and not age.
Findings in relation to age discrimination
The tribunal accepted the age discrimination claim, ruling that it was for CIBC to provide an adequate explanation for use of the word “younger” in the recruitment brief, which it had failed to do. Mr Beck had relied on the use of this word in bringing his age discrimination claim, on the grounds that this was evidence of direct age discrimination.
The tribunal did not accept the explanation put forward by CIBC that “younger” simply meant less senior or less experienced. Nor did the tribunal take into account the bank’s argument that it could not be found to have discriminated against Mr Beck on the grounds of his age because it had recruited him when he was over 40, such that age could not be an issue. The tribunal noted that the only question for it to consider concerned the basis on which the decision to dismiss Mr Beck had been made at the time of dismissal, and CIBC had not been able to show that that decision was not influenced by Mr Beck’s age.
This case has, understandably, attracted considerable media attention in both the UK and Canada. Damages are yet to be determined but are likely to be substantial due to the level of former salary and the fact that age discrimination awards are not limited.
The decision serves as a clear reminder of the need for employers to make decisions to dismiss solely on the basis of grounds which are permissible and the importance of ensuring that evidence is retained to note and support those grounds.