Employment Law Case Update: Walker v Innospec Ltd and others
You may well have seen news coverage on the case of Walker v Innospec Ltd and others.
This was a landmark case involving a worker and his same-sex partner. The claimant, Mr Walker, retired from Innospec in 2003 after working there for 23 years. In 2006 he asked Innospec whether in the event of his death, they would pay a spouse’s pension to his civil partner.
Innospec refused, on the basis that Mr Walker’s service pre-dated 5 December 2005 when civil partnerships were introduced in the UK. Their argument was that this meant any discriminatory treatment would be permitted under paragraph 18 of Schedule 9 of the Equality Act 2010. This provides that it is lawful to discriminate against an employee who is in a civil partnership or same-sex marriage by preventing or restricting them from having access to a benefit, facility or service the right to which accrued before 5 December 2005 or which is payable in respect of periods of service before that date.
Mr Walker claimed that if he were to marry a woman she would be entitled to around £45,700 a year in the event of his death. His husband would only receive approximately £1000 per annum.
This started off as an employment issue as Mr Walker successfully claimed direct discrimination in the Employment Tribunal in 2013. However at the Employment Appeal Tribunal the Department for Work and Pensions claimed that not backdating the benefits for same sex couples was not in contravention of EU law.
The EAT agreed with this and the Government proceeded to carry out a review of same-sex survivor benefits. It estimated the cost of equalising pension schemes and backdating pay outs for same sex couples could cost as much as £3 million.
The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Walker’s case.
Just last month Mr Walker appealed this decision at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court unanimously allowed his appeal and made a declaration that Paragraph 18 of Schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010 is incompatible with EU law and must be disregarded. The court also declared that Mr Walker’s husband is entitled on his death, to a spouse’s pension, provided they remain married.
The Supreme Court referred to two European Court of Justice decisions which confirmed that unless evidence establishes that there would be unacceptable economic or social consequences giving effect to the deceased’s entitlement to survivor‘s pension for his husband, at the time that this pension would fall due, there was no reason that he should be subjected to unequal treatment as to the payment of that pension.
Despite it being a landmark decision it is unlikely to have an immediate impact with regard to pensions. However the decision has potential to have an effect on the application of discrimination law, as the decision allows protection for pension scheme members in respect of periods before protective discrimination legislation came into force.
This article is from our weekly Employment Law Newsletter published on 10th August 2017. If you would like to receive this newsletter directly and be kept up to date with recent cases and Employment Law news, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.