24 May 2014
Well known Channel 4 Racing pundit, John McCririck, 74, lost his Employment Tribunal claim on 13th November 2013 against IMG Media Ltd. He was allegedly seeking £3m of damages for age discrimination.
In March 2012, Channel 4 secured an extensive racing contract to show the main horse races in Britain for the upcoming year. IMG was accordingly brought in and they set about developing a new format. This format was to include Claire Balding, supermodel Erin O’Connor and presenter Gok Wan; all some way younger than McCririck.
McCririck claimed that he was more than capable of continuing his role and that the decision to terminate was due to his age.
Cue a raft of evidence from each side as to the reason for the dismissal. The Respondent held no punches, describing McCririck as “unappealing and irritating”. In addition his appearances on such reality shows had painted him as both bigoted and chauvinistic. In defence to this, McCririck stated that this was his “pantomime persona” and an act. He also argued that the Channel 4 bosses had encouraged him to play up to his reputation. For a man that has spent much of his recent life on television, there was no shortage of evidence to support his lack of political correctness.
The Employment Tribunal unanimously decided that his dismissal served a legitimate aim for IMG Media Limited. It agreed that the rationale for his dismissal was not based on his age; going as far as to state that “his persona, together with self-described bigoted and chauvinistic views were clearly unpalatable to a wider audience”
What can businesses take from this case? Age discrimination legislation is an important protection for an ever aging population. However, businesses should not be scared of progression or development which involves the removal of older members of staff, purely for fear of reprisals if such dismissals can be justified for non-age related reasons. Conversely however, businesses should recognise that support and guidance to assist with changes or development of existing staff should be the first port of call. McCririck tried to argue that Channel 4 bosses had never asked him to tone down and had they done so, he would have. Given the level of his exposure to the public, and indeed the nature of some of his past comments, this was a hard sell. Where his skill and ability as a race pundit, rather than his over all persona were not necessarily in question, another individual in similar circumstances may well have been more successful in convincing the Tribunal that age was a significant factor in a dismissal.
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