The Times reported last month that referring to a work colleague as a grandparent could count as age discrimination even if they are in fact a grandparent.

Anne Dopson, a 62-year-old, worked for Stag Publications in Hertfordshire as a Sales Director and resigned in October 2017 and brought various claims, including age discrimination. Ms. Dopson said that she was upset by a reference which a colleague had made in an article published in an industry magazine to a car Ms. Dopson had driven being “comfy wheels for a grandmother”. Ms. Dopson, who has a number of grandchildren, nevertheless said “I don’t agree with what could be perceived as a dig at my age.”.

The Tribunal accepted that the article (and in particular the relevant portion which had offended Ms. Dopson) was detrimental treatment within the meaning of section 39(2)(d) of the Equality Act 2010 (“EA 2010”) and that it was also less favourable treatment by reason of Ms. Dopson’s age, and therefore direct age discrimination.

It’s important to note that this case, whilst an interesting set of circumstances, is only a first instance Tribunal decision and therefore does not set a precedent to be followed by other Tribunals.  Also, Ms. Dopson’s claim for age discrimination failed on the basis that she had brought it outside of the 3-month limitation period.  Nevertheless, the judgment shows that words or labels which are linked to one of the nine protected characteristics in the EA 2010 (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation) can be problematic if used inappropriately and in a way which is deemed discriminatory by the EA 2010. The case should give employees and managers pause before making similar comments about their colleagues, whether they are true statements or not.