Age-graduated pension contributions not discriminating
Age-graduated pension schemes are not in contravention of the Danish Act on Prohibition against Discrimination on the Labour Market - according to judgment of 12 November 2015 from the Danish Supreme Court.
Pursuant to the Danish Act on Prohibition against Discrimination on the Labour Market and the underlying EU Directive - the Employment Equality Directive - employers may not discriminate employees due to age. However, there are some exemptions modifying this principal rule, including in relation to "occupational social security schemes". In the present case, the question was whether the age-graduation in the pension scheme of a private enterprise was comprised by the exemption clause and consequently could be regarded as being legal.
The case involved a pension scheme designed to the effect that the size of both the employee's and the employer's pension contributions increased concurrently with the employee's age. Thus, the rate of the pension contributions for employees below the age of 35 was 3 per cent respectively 6 per cent, for employees between the age of 35 and 45 they were 4 per cent respectively 8 per cent, and for employees above the age of 45 they were 5 per cent respectively 10 per cent.
The former employee, who on the date of commencement of employment was 29 years old, claimed that the lower rate of pension contributions for younger employees compared with the rates paid to older employees constituted an act of age discrimination and consequently filed a law suit against the former employer.
The Danish Western High Court had referred the case to the European Court of Justice. In its decision of 26 September 2013, the European Court of Justice found that age-graduated pension schemes do not fall within the special exemption clause regarding "occupational social security schemes". After having examined whether the scheme could be comprised by the general derogation clause set forth in the Directive allowing age discrimination if it is necessary and reasonably justified by a legitimate aim, the European Court of Justice came to the conclusion that the objectives of the scheme were legitimate, leaving it to the Danish Western High Court to make out whether the objectives were pursued in a consistent, systematic and proportional manner.
The Danish Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Danish Western High Court establishing that the pension scheme in a systematic and consistent manner pursued the legitimate objectives set forth in the Directive and that the scheme does not go further than necessary in order to achieve these objectives - which means in a proportional manner.
We have previously informed about the ruling of the European Court of Justice and the judgment of the Danish Western High Court.
The judgment illustrates the fact that age-graduated pension schemes are not subject to the prohibition against age discrimination, provided that such schemes are objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate aim pursued in a consistent and systematic manner and that the scheme observes the principle of proportionality by not going further than necessary to reach these objectives.
However, the judgment is based on the specific circumstances in relation to the questions that were left to the Danish courts to decide. Therefore, it must be expected that Danish courts also in future cases will thoroughly review whether the considerations in the Directive are pursued in a consistent, systematic and proportional manner.