Employment Law Speed Read – 07/01/19
07th January 2019
In Williams v Trustees of Swansea University Pension, the Supreme Court held that an employee who worked part-time as a result of his disability, had not been treated unfavourably under section 15 of the Equality Act 2010 (discrimination arising from disability), when his ill-health retirement pension had been calculated on the basis of his part-time salary.
Mr Williams was employed by Swansea University between 2000 and 2013. Mr Williams suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, depression and various other psychological conditions, and was regarded as disabled under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010).
For the first ten years of his employment, Mr Williams worked full-time. However, due to his disability, Mr Williams worked on a part-time basis for the remainder of his employment. In May 2013, Mr Williams applied for early ill-health retirement; this request was granted and Mr Williams retired at the age of 38.
Under his employer’s pension scheme rules, Mr Williams was entitled to his accrued pension and an enhanced pension which was based on a period of deemed pensionable service. These payments were calculated with reference to Mr Williams’ part-time salary. Mr Williams brought a claim to the Employment Tribunal (ET) under section 15 EqA 2010. Mr Williams alleged that because he only worked part-time as a result of his disability, calculating his enhanced pension on the basis of his part-time salary amounted to unfavourable treatment.
The ET found in favour of Mr Williams and held that by basing his enhanced pension on his part-time salary as opposed to the full-time salary he received prior to the reduction in his hours, amounted to unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of his disability. Further, the unfavourable treatment could not be justified. Mr Williams’ employer appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).
Employment Appeal Tribunal
The EAT allowed the appeal and remitted the case to a new Tribunal. The EAT held that contrary to the opinion of the ET, unfavourable treatment does not equate to the concept of detriment. As such, treatment which is detrimental is not automatically unfavourable under section 15 EqA 2010. Further, the EAT stated that the pension scheme was “immensely favourable” and that advantageous treatment is not unfavourable merely because it could have been more advantageous. Mr Williams appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Williams’ appeal and held that calculating Mr Williams’ enhanced pension on the basis of his part-time salary did not amount to unfavourable treatment under section 15 EqA 2010. The Court of Appeal stated that the benefits which Mr Williams was entitled to were “far more advantageous” than those which would be available to a non-disabled colleague; as such, no unfavourable treatment had occurred. Mr Williams appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court dismissed Mr Williams’ appeal and again found in favour of his employer. The Supreme Court stated that section 15 EqA 2010 raises two simple questions of fact. The first question to consider is, what is the relevant treatment and secondly, whether that treatment was unfavourable to the Claimant. The Supreme Court held that the relevant treatment was the award of the pension. If Mr Williams had not been disabled, he would not have been entitled to his pension at that time. As such, the treatment was not in any sense unfavourable.
This case provides clarity on the definition of unfavourable treatment under section 15 EqA 2010 and the approach a Tribunal or Court should take when deciding such a claim. Further, the case demonstrates that generally, advantageous treatment will not be regarded as ‘unfavourable’ even if the treatment in question could have been more advantageous.
If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect you, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our employment team.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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