In the case of Palacios v Cortefiel Servicios SA, the European Court of Justice has held that the European Union's Equal Treatment Framework Directive does not prohibit member states from introducing mandatory retirement ages. Following an earlier ruling by an Advocate-General of the ECJ, the Court ruled on a complaint brought by Félix Palacios de la Villa against Cortefiel Servicios SA, in which Mr Palacios claims that his dismissal on the ground that he had attained the compulsory retirement age laid down in a collective agreement was unlawful and that a provision in Spain's discrimination laws which effectively allowed employers to force staff to retire at 65 was incompatible with European law.
In its decision, the Court first stated that national legislation fixing an age for compulsory retirement establishes rules relating to "employment and working conditions, including dismissals and pay" within the meaning of Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000--establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation--and, therefore falls within its scope. Thus, since such legislation directly imposes less favorable treatment for workers who have reached that age as compared with all other persons in the labor force, it cannot pass muster unless there is justification for that difference in treatment.
Turning to the justification in the case of the Spanish legislation, the Court found that it lay in a national policy aiming to promote better access to employment by means of better distribution of work between the generations, even though the legislation did not formally refer to that aim. Furthermore, the court found that the legitimacy of such an aim could not reasonably be called into question, since the promotion of a high level of employment constitutes one of the ends pursued both by the European Union and the European Community.
The Court stopped short of authorizing any such legislation. While member states and enjoy broad discretion in their choice, the national measures may not go beyond what is "appropriate and necessary" to achieve the aim concerned. Thus, the Court found it not unreasonable for a member state to take the view that compulsory retirement, because the worker has reached the age-limit provided for, may be appropriate and necessary in order to achieve a legitimate aim in the context of national employment policy consisting in promoting full employment by facilitating access to the labour market. Furthermore, the Spanish legislation was not based only on a specific age, but also took account of the fact that the persons concerned were entitled to financial compensation by way of a retirement pension at the end of their working life, the level of which cannot be regarded as unreasonable.
Source: European Court of Justice News Release (October 16, 2007)