Liberty client wins legal fight for equal pension benefits

23 November 2012

Liberty client John Walker has won his legal battle to secure equal pension benefits for his civil partner.

Mr Walker worked for chemicals group Innospec for more than 20 years – and has been in a relationship with his civil partner for almost as long. He joined the company’s pension scheme expecting that, upon his death, his partner would receive a pension – as surviving spouses do under the scheme.

But the firm refused to treat Mr Walker’s civil partner as a “spouse”, relying on an exemption in the Equality Act 2010 which seems to allow private employers to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation in respect of pension rights.

Liberty brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal on Mr Walker’s behalf – arguing that such discrimination contravenes both European Union law and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Tribunal agreed – ruling that not paying Mr Walker’s partner the same pension they would pay a surviving spouse was indeed discriminatory.

Corinna Ferguson, legal officer for Liberty, said: “John had paid exactly the same contributions as other pension scheme members – it was inherently unfair that he wouldn’t have received the same benefits as married members.

“The situation was clearly discriminatory – if John had dissolved his civil partnership and married a woman, she would have been immediately entitled to a full spousal pension in the event of his death.

“Hopefully this victory will provide vital further clarification of the legislation in this area and help pave the way for fair and equal pension rights for all civil partners.”

Mr Walker said: “Winning this case is the most important thing that’s happened to my partner and me since our civil partnership. It secures his future in the event of my death and gives me peace of mind in my retirement”.

Contact: Liberty Press Office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831128

NOTES TO EDITORS:

 1. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force on 5 December 2005, enabling same sex couples for the first time to enter into a legal commitment equivalent to marriage. On the same date an exemption was created to permit employers and pension funds to exclude civil partners from spousal benefits attributable to service prior to 5 December 2005. This exemption is now contained in paragraph 18(1) of Schedule 9 of the Equality Act 2010.

2. Traditionally, occupational pension schemes state that when a member dies his or her spouse is entitled to 50 per cent of the value of the pension for the rest of his or her life, regardless of when the couple married. Some pension schemes have voluntarily extended this benefit to employees’ civil partners and public sector pension schemes ensure that civil partners are equivalent to widows regardless of retirement date.

3. The exemption in the Equality Act 2010 potentially affects any employee who:

i) is a member of an occupational pension scheme which includes benefits for members’ spouses,

ii) has pensionable service prior to 5 December 2005, and

iii) is in a civil partnership.

4. Liberty argued on Mr Walker’s behalf that the exemption contravenes the EU Framework Directive on Equal Treatment in Employment, which requires member states to outlaw discrimination in the workplace on grounds of, among other things, sexual orientation. It also argued that it is contrary to the fundamental principle of equality in EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights.

5. The Employment Tribunal ruled that the company’s position was indeed in breach of EU Framework Directive 2000/78/EC and that the exemption in the Equality Act 2010 must therefore be read so as to preclude reliance on it in these circumstances.