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European court advised to find Trinity lecturer was discriminated against for being gay

David Parris has taken Trinity College to the European Court of Justice over its refusal to transfer his pension to his partner of 30 years in the event of his death.

shutterstock_236374315 Trinity College Dublin Source: Shutterstock/Aitormmfoto

A TOP EUROPEAN legal adviser has recommended that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) find that a gay lecturer employed at Trinity College Dublin was discriminated against regarding his pension due to his sexual orientation.

70-year-old David Parris, a lecturer in French at Trinity between 1972 and 2010, took his case to the Irish Labour Court (having seen it rejected by an Equality Tribunal here), which in turn referred it to Europe.

His case stems from the fact he was not allowed by the college to transfer his pension to his partner of 30 years in the event of his death (a ‘survivor’s pension’), as he was over 60 when the couple entered into a civil partnership in Ireland in 2011.

A requirement for declaring notice of intent to transfer a pension in such a manner is that the person in question be under 60 years of age. The same proviso exists in all cases of civil partnership or marriage, regardless of gender.

Parris’ argument is that this constituted discrimination due to his sexual orientation given he could not enter into a legal partnership in Ireland before he turned 60, as it was not legally permissible at that time.

Civil partnership was first introduced for gay couples in Ireland in January 2011. At that time Parris was 65 years old.

The former lecturer and his partner have been together for 30 years. They married in the UK last year.

Now, the Advocate General of the ECJ in Luxembourg, Germany’s Juliane Kokott, has recommended that the court find that Parris was indeed discriminated against in terms of his sexual orientation by the college.

The lecturer’s case was initially dismissed by the Equality Tribunal here before being taken to the Labour Court. The Labour Court has already professed its acceptance of the fact that Parris and his partner would have married long ago if the option had been available within Ireland.

Europe Prison Court Ruling The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg Source: AP/Press Association Images

Parris has taken the case on the grounds that he has been discriminated against on grounds of both age and sexual orientation separately, and on the same grounds taken as one.

In the initial Equality Tribunal hearing, the college had successfully argued that Parris was anticipating discriminatory treatment, rather than actually experiencing same, as the survivor’s pension would only become an issue should he predecease his partner.

Kokott’s opinion alludes to the matter of alleged discrimination regarding sexual orientation only, as follows:

It constitutes indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation… for an occupational pension scheme to make the right of same-sex partners to a survivor’s pension subject to the condition that the civil partnership was contracted before the 60th birthday of the employee… in circumstances where it was legally impossible for the persons concerned to enter into such a civil partnership or marriage before the employee reached that age limit.

The discrimination Kokott alludes to is however indirect, rather than direct.

This preliminary finding is not binding however. The ECOJ’s official ruling will be delivered next month.

Along with Trinity, the Higher Education Authority, Department of Public Expenditure, and the Department of Education are also defendants in the case.

The position of AG is a common one in many European countries.

While not a judge, an AG is a senior member of the courts, who offers impartial legal advice to the European judges. While that opinion often agrees with the ruling arrived at by the court, it is in no way legally binding.

Comments have been disabled as this article concerns an ongoing legal issue

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