Supreme Court ends pension discrimination for same sex couples
In a recent case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled an exemption which companies could claim which would allow them to not pay spousal pension rights to a widow(er) in a same-sex marriage was unlawful and discriminatory. The Supreme Court held Mr John Walker’s husband would receive the same pension rights should Mr Walker die as he would if he were a woman.
The facts of this case will not be unusual and will impact many same-sex couples. Mr Walker worked for the chemicals group Innospec from 1980 to 2003, during which time he contributed the same to his pension as his heterosexual colleagues. He entered into a civil partnership in 2006 which was later converted into a marriage.
Innospec were refusing to pay the spousal pension to Mr Walker’s husband if he were to die. He would have received £1,000 per annum as opposed to full pension rights of £45,000 per annum. Mr Walker won an employment tribunal in 2012 but this was then overturned on appeal by Innospec two years later.
Mr Walker then appealed to the Court of Appeal. Innospec relied upon an exemption within the Equality Act 2010 which allows employers to exclude civil partners from spousal benefits paid before the date on which Civil Partnerships became legal within the UK – December 2005. The majority of occupational pension schemes do not take the date of marriage into account when paying spousal pensions rights to a heterosexual married couple. The Court of Appeal refused to allow Mr Walker’s Appeal.
Mr Walker then went to the Supreme Court who unanimously held that the exemption within the Equality Act 2010 is incompatible with EU law and must be disapplied.
This ruling sees people within a Civil Partnership enjoy the same rights as a heterosexual married couple – surely anything else would be an injustice. However, the Supreme Court’s decision was on the basis of the protection which EU law has provided to us. There are now calls on the government to ensure that there will be no rollback on this when the UK leaves the EU and time will tell what affect Brexit shall have.
If you would like further information in relation to this or any oher matters please contact a member of the family team.