Sex discrimination – European law

In December 1980, Douglas Barber was made redundant by his employer, the Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance Group. Barber was at the time aged 52, and ineligible to draw from his employer pension, of which he was a member, as the usual pensionable age was 57 years for women and 62 for men. Mr Barber’s contract did stipulate that in the event of redundancy, members of the pension fund could access their pensions at the age of 55 for men or 50 for women.

Mr Barber made a complaint to an industrial tribunal under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 that he had been discriminated against. The Tribunal ruled that the Act did not apply and Mr Barber took his case to the Court of Appeal, who subsequently asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to rule on (amongst other questions) whether women and men of the same age should be eligible for equal benefits, including those of a private pension, in the case of redundancy. In a judgment of 17 May 1990, the ECJ agreed that the treatment of Mr Barber was discriminatory and amounted to an equal pay claim, with occupational pension schemes treated as pay for this purpose.

Following the case, it was stipulated that imposing differing age of pay-out for members of a private pension scheme based on sex is discriminatory, and this practice was subsequently stopped after 1990.