Trinity lecturer loses discrimination case at European Court

Appeal which would have allowed same-sex partner to access pension after death is dismissed

A retired lecturer at Trinity College Dublin has lost his appeal at the European Court of Justice which would have allowed his partner of 30 years to access his pension after his death.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

A retired lecturer at Trinity College Dublin has lost his appeal at the European Court of Justice which would have allowed his partner of 30 years to access his pension after his death. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

A retired lecturer at Trinity College Dublin has lost his appeal at the European Court of Justice which would have allowed his partner of 30 years to access his pension after his death.

In a judgment on Thursday, the European Court of Justice dismissed a claim by Dr David Parris of unfair treatment on the grounds of sex and age discrimination by Trinity College Dublin over its pension rules that prevent his same-sex partner of more than 30 years from accessing a ‘survivor’s pension’ in the event of his death.

The case was referred to the European Court in Luxembourg by the Irish Labour Court, which sought guidance as to whether the university’s rules pension scheme was in breach of EU laws on discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and/or age.

In September 2010, Dr David Parris, who worked for the university between 1972 and 2010, challenged the university’s pension provisions, but this was overruled by the university and the Higher Education Authority.

He then brought the case to the Equality Tribunal, which dismissed his case. The decision was appealed at the Labour Court which then sought the advice of the ECJ, the EU’s highest court.

Under Trinity’s pension rules, Dr Parris’ partner would be prohibited from accessing his partner’s pension, because civil partnership was only recognised in Ireland in 2011, after Dr Parris turned 60.

This is despite the fact that the two men had entered a civil partnership under UK law in 2009, and were married in Britain in January 2015.

Dr Parris (70) has dual Irish and British nationality, and the labour court found that Dr Parris and his partner would have married or contracted a civil partnership previously had either option been legally possible.

The court looked at whether there had been direct or indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation or discrimination on the basis of age. The court noted that sexual discrimination occurs when a person is treated in a less favourable manner than another person in a comparable situation because of his sexual orientation. But it found that in the case of Parris V Trinity, the rule that partners must marry or enter a civil partnership before the age of 60 applied to homosexual and heterosexual people equally. so was not directly discriminatory.

Similarly, the court ruled that there was no indirect discrimination ie., that same-sex partners were disproportionately affected by the rule due to the fact that they had not the option to marry or enter same-sex partnerships before 2011. This is because EU law did not require Ireland to have marriage or same-sex partnerships for people before 2011 or give retrospective effect to the civil partnership act.

On the issue of discrimination on the basis of age, the court found that occupational pension schemes are permitted to fix the age for admission or entitlement to retirement of invalidity benefits . Hence there had been no discrimination on the basis of age.