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Posted on 18 May 2023

'Old fossil' at FTSE 250 firm sacked and replaced with a younger employee

Posted in Legal news

Read time: 3 minutes

A senior executive at a FTSE 250 firm, Glenn Cowie, has won his employment tribunal after being a victim of age discrimination, unfair dismissal and victimisation. Cowie was sacked without warning and replaced by a younger employee, Karena Cancilleri, who was 51 years old. The London Central employment tribunal found that age was “one of the factors” that led to his dismissal, and that Cowie was not subject to a proper dismissal process. If Cowie had been in his forties, he would likely have been treated more favourably, the tribunal added.

The tribunal heard that Cowie was called an “old fossil” by his CEO, Patrick Andre, in a lecture about how to deal with millennials. Cowie, who was 58 at the time, was global business unit president of the Foseco division of metal engineering and technology firm Vesuvius since 2014. Andre confirmed in a letter dated 9 May 2018 that there would be a push for candidates with a maximum age of 45 years old, and said in various meetings that the organisation needed to “get younger”, or words to that effect. During 2017 and 2018, Cowie had been given personal objectives to dismiss four senior executives, all of whom were high performers and aged between 45 and 62 years old. According to Andre, this was so that they would be replaced with candidates with a “more international outlook”.

Cowie was reluctant to accept the role as it would require him to move from the US to the UK, and he had “serious medical reasons” to stay in the US, which were not disclosed to the tribunal. Despite this, he moved to the UK on 17 October 2018, incurring relocation costs of approximately £274,000, which the firm promised to reimburse him for. On the same day as the move, executive search agency Egon Zehnder was engaged in an “initial talent mapping” exercise to find a potential replacement for Cowie.

In February 2019, Andre made the decision to terminate Cowie’s employment, and on 19 March instructed Egon Zehnder to find a replacement for his role. Cowie was dismissed on 1 August, and was placed on garden leave for six months. He submitted a grievance on 1 October, in which he alleged age discrimination and an “anti-American stigma” within the company. The grievance was investigated, and Cowie was dismissed for issues including “unsatisfactory results” and an inability to provide the “required leadership”.

The tribunal found that Cowie was victimised and unfairly dismissed after being sacked without undergoing a formal performance management process. The claimant was also subject to age discrimination. The tribunal noted that the claimant had previously pushed for young engineers to be recruited straight from college in every plant around the world, as part of a campaign started in 2015 and dubbed ‘Project Excalibur’, due to the fact that a set of managers were retiring at the same time without potential successors.

Employers have a legal duty not to discriminate against employees or job applicants on the grounds of age, under the Equality Act 2010. Age discrimination can occur in many different ways, from recruitment and promotion to redundancy and retirement. Employers should be careful not to make assumptions about a person's ability or skills based on their age. Job advertisements should not contain age limits, and questions about age should not be asked during the recruitment process.

If an employer has a legitimate reason for treating an employee or job applicant differently because of their age, this will not be age discrimination. For example, if a job requires a certain level of physical fitness or the ability to work certain hours, it may be appropriate to set an age limit.