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Tribunal rules air steward was discriminated against by airline when they made her redundant on the grounds of length of service

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead Burton

In the case of Mrs K Irving v TUI Airways Ltd Karen Irving was employed as cabin crew for an international travel operator, based at Glasgow Airport. She had worked for travel company TUI for more than 20 years when she was made redundant as a result of cuts due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

An employment tribunal heard the main criteria used to select staff who were to lose their jobs was length of service – so colleagues aged over 45 were kept on. Mrs Irving described herself at the hearing as an ‘inbetweener’ as she benefited from neither the company’s policies towards older staff nor those that helped younger employees.

She said the older colleagues all had at least 25 years’ service which she could never have achieved at her age. The tribunal heard that TUI typically operated over winter months with surplus staffing but following the Covid-19 pandemic it began looking at reducing costs.

In June 2021, all cabin crew staff were informed that a formal redundancy process was due to begin.

Across five of its UK bases, 242 TUI cabin managers and cabin crew were pooled for redundancy, with 37 of those being based at Glasgow. Mrs Irving was selected for redundancy in September 2021 but immediately pointed out she was being discriminated against on grounds of age.

A tribunal report said: “During the course of the meeting, she stated that she felt discriminated against on the grounds of age given that the reliance on length of service meant that she could never be safe from redundancy and that all those who were safe were over the age of 45.”

Dave McCabe, People and Performance Manager, told Mrs Irving TUI also factored in attendance records and sanctions as well as length of service when deciding who to make redundant.

However, the tribunal found that length of service was the ‘sole’ factor.

The report added: “Mrs Irving gave evidence to the tribunal, which was not challenged, and which was accepted, that none of the employees in the pool at Glasgow had been scored down for live sanctions and none had met the attendance triggers meaning that length of service was the sole criterion which had any bearing on the selection.”

It was heard Mrs Irving no longer wishes to work in the airline industry following the ordeal.

Judge Mackay added: “It was clear to the tribunal that the redundancy process and the manner in which it was conducted created distress and anxiety for her.”

Mrs Irving won claims of indirect age discrimination, unfair dismissal, and breach of contract and was awarded £6,594.

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