In March 2009 Achim Beck brought a claim against his employer, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. A German national, he maintained that he was a victim of race discrimination because the employer favoured Canadian nationals, and age discrimination because he was selected for redundancy on the basis that the employer wanted someone younger. Aged 42 he was replaced with a 38 year old. His claim for race discrimination was dismissed but he was successful in establishing age discrimination and can now expect to receive substantial compensation.
Mr Beck joined the Bank in 2007 and was dismissed on the ground of redundancy in May 2008, when he had completed less than a year’s service. Although he did not have sufficient qualifying service to claim unfair dismissal, his age discrimination was made out when the tribunal found that, when appointing head-hunters, the employer had asked for a “younger, more entrepreneurial profile”.
Mr Beck was on a base salary of £125,000 and a guaranteed bonus of £775,000. It is expected that his compensation will run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. He is thought to be one of the youngest successful age discrimination claimants.
The tribunal concluded that the processes applied by the Bank when dealing with Mr Beck were “hopelessly unfair” and that the redundancy exercise which led to his dismissal was a “sham”. The case had earlier gone to the Court of Appeal concerning the disclosure of sensitive documents by the employer and it was an internal memo which made clear the instruction to the head hunters so that it was obvious that the assertion that Mr Beck’s post was redundant demonstrated “a complete disregard for the truth”.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the case is the age difference of only four years between Mr Beck and his replacement. Unfortunately for the Bank, once it was clear that the word “younger” was used in the context of a recruitment process (the Bank’s head of HR had advised against doing so), the writing was on the wall and six figure compensation will follow.
The case is also a prime example of the problems which can be caused when an employer seeks to legitimise a dismissal by attempting to cloak it with an ostensibly fair process. Very many employers and managers will have encountered situations in which a decision is made to dispense with the services of an employee and only then is thought given to how and supposedly why the dismissal will be achieved. In an age of emails and text messages, employers should be aware that the chance of being “found out” is much higher than ever before.