The Court of Appeal has ruled against a retired worker in his bid to see his husband receive the same pay out from his pension scheme in the event of his death as a spouse of the opposite sex would be entitled to.
In the case of Walker vs Innospec Ltd and others, with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions as an interested party on behalf of the latter, John Walker had worked at the chemicals organisation from 1980 until his retirement in 2003. As a member of Innospec’s pension scheme, Walker receives a pension of £85,000 a year.
Walker and his partner entered into a civil partnership in 2006 and have since married. As he retired before the Civil Partnership Act came into effect in 2005, his partner is not entitled to receive the full spousal pension should he outlive Walker.
Sign up to our newsletters
Receive news and guidance on a range of HR issues direct to your inbox
The claimant argued that if his spouse were a widow, she would be entitled to approximately £41,000 a year through the pension scheme. As a widower, however, his partner would only be able to claim around £500 a year. He argued that this contravened EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights, and in 2012 the Employment Tribunal (ET) found in Walker’s favour.
Innospec lodged an appeal that was allowed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). The EAT overturned the ET’s decision in 2014.
Walker subsequently appealed against the EAT ruling. The Court of Appeal released its judgement on 6 October, which held in favour of Innospec on the grounds that the claim referred to a period before civil partnerships were recognised and the law could not be applied retrospectively.
In his ruling Lord Justice Underhill stated: “I can understand that Mr Walker and his husband will find this conclusion hard to accept. But changes in social attitudes, and the legislation which embodies those changes, cannot fully undo the effects of the past.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, general secretary at the Trade Union Congress (TUC), said: “Today’s ruling is a real disappointment. There are thousands of people like Mr Walker who want financial security for their surviving spouse or civil partner but can’t get it because their pension schemes continue to discriminate against same-sex couples.
“Had the court ruled in favour of Mr Walker it would have removed one of the last remaining obstacles to true equality for gay and lesbian couples.”