A same-sex couple have lost an appeal seeking equal company pension rights.
The Court of Appeal ruled against John Walker’s claim that his former company, Innospec, discriminated against him and breached his human rights by refusing to recognise that his husband should be entitled to the same pension rights as a wife in a heterosexual relationship.
Mr Walker had worked for the chemical group for 23 years before retiring in 2003. He had been living with his long term partner since 1993, and entered a civil partnership with him in January 2006. Civil Partnerships had been introduced the previous month. Their relationship was subsequently converted into a marriage after same-sex marriage legislation was implemented in England and Wales in 2014. Mr Walker is 62 and wanted to ensure that if he died first, his 49 year old partner was provided for financially. His company pension is worth around £85,000 annually.
Because he retired before it was illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual preference, Innospec refused to recognise that Mr Walker’s partner had any legal entitlement to his pension, despite their long-term relationship.
In 2012, an Employment Tribunal ruled that that the Innospec pension scheme breached European law and the European convention on human rights. However, in 2014 the company went to an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), with the support of the Department of Work and Pensions. The EAT ruled in Innospec’s favour, saying that Mr Walker had retired before the Civil Partnership Act 2004 became law at the end of 2005. As a result, the Act’s requirement for benefits to be applied equally to married couples and civil partners did not apply.
Mr Walker said:
“I gave them more than two decades of service. I paid exactly the same contributions as my heterosexual colleagues. Yet my husband – with whom I have lived for over 20 years – will be entitled to nothing from the company on my death.”
After the EAT decision, Mr Walker turned to the Court of Appeal and was represented in court by human rights group Liberty. But Lord Dyson, sitting with Lord Justice Lewison and Lord Justice Underhill upheld the EAT ruling. Lord Justice Underhill said:
“I can understand that Mr Walker and his husband will find this conclusion hard to accept. But changes in social attitudes and the legislation that embodies those changes, cannot fully undo the effects of the past.”
Mr Walker had pointed out that if he divorced his partner and entered a heterosexual marriage, on his death his wife would receive approximately £41,000 annually from his company pension, but the scheme would only pay his husband around one per cent of that amount.
Legal commentators have acknowledged that many pension schemes have voluntarily chosen to treat civil partners in the same way as heterosexual marriages. However, the UK government has estimated that “full equalisation” of pension rights could cost over £3 billion.
In the first three months since same-sex marriage became legal on in England and Wales on March 29, 2014 there have been 1,409 same-sex marriages according to the Office of National Statistics. There were 6,276 civil partnerships in 2013.