Doctor in High Court challenge against HSE requirement to retire at 65

By Ann O'Loughlin

A doctor in the addiction services is relying on EU law against age discrimination as part of his legal challenge to a HSE requirement that he must retire at 65, the High Court has heard.

Under a 2003 EU Framework Directive on equality, Dr Paul Quigley, a GP in the HSE's north Dublin addiction service, has to be provided with objectively justifiable reasons for his compulsory retirement, his counsel Marguerite Bolger argued.

She was making arguments in seeking an injunction preventing the HSE forcing him to retire this week on grounds of age discrimination, lack of a retirement age in his contract and because others in the HSE are still working beyond 65.

The court heard 75 others, out of 50,000 HSE "officer grade" employees similar to Dr Quigley, are working beyond the age of 65.

Ms Bolger said her client has worked in the HSE addiction service since 1998. Last month, he received a letter stating he would reach retirement age on October 18 and would have to retire.

He wants an injunction, pending full hearing of his case, preventing the termination of his employment.

Dr Paul Quigley leaving the High Court today. Pic: Collins.

It is claimed his contract with the addiction service contains no retirement age and that two immediate colleagues of Dr Quigley were kept on beyond 65.

The HSE argues the grounds for retirement are that it is statutorily provided for and is also a term of an employee's superannuation scheme.

Ms Bolger said Dr Quigley faces a dramatic cut in income if forced to retire because he only entered the superannuation scheme in 2006 and faces a three-quarter cut in salary.

He had arranged his financial affairs on the basis that he could continue working at 65 as others within the addiction services had done.

Ms Bolger argued the EU Framework Equality Directive prohibits discrimination in employment on age grounds, but recognised that compulsory retirement was permissible where it is objectively justified.

This includes issues such as inter-generational fairness which provides forced retirement can be justified where it is done to give opportunities to the younger generation to move up within their employment and therefore avoid stagnation in a particular sector, counsel said.

In this case however, there are difficulties finding doctors to take up jobs in the addiction service.

Despite knowing for years they would be terminating Dr Quigley's employment at 65, no replacement had yet been found for him, counsel said.

The HSE had indicated they would fill his role with an agency worker, she said.

Peter Ward SC, for the HSE, said while EU case law had provided for objective justification for a national retirement age, there was requirement for the HSE to have sat down and discussed justification for compulsory retirement individually with Dr Quigley.

Dr Quigley is "in the wrong court" if he believes he is a victim of age discrimination because there is a separate statutory system for dealing with such issues and that is the Workplace Relations Commission, counsel said.

The High Court should hold an early hearing of the full case because Dr Quigley has not made out a strong case for why he should be treated differently from the 500 other permanent officers retiring this year from the HSE, counsel said.

The case continues before Mr Justice Paul Gilligan.

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