Proportionality in Age Discrimination Cases - a Model Suitable for Socially Embedded Rights

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

756 Downloads (Pure)


This chapter discusses the use of proportionality in age discrimination cases before the Court of Justice of the European Union. It argues that the Court does not use this concept systematically - indeed it exposes some contradiction that make the case law seem arbitrary - and proposes a more fruitful use of the principle, which is in line with a modern conception of human rights. The chapter argues that the principle of proportionality stems from the time when human rights served the recently liberated burgeois elite in guarding their rights to property and liberty against the state. Today, states not only respect human rights (which is fully sufficient for this elite, who can rely on their inherited wealth to fend for themselves). They also protect and promote human rights, and these activities are a precondition for human rights to be practically relevant for the whole population. This also means that state activity, which is experienced as a limitation of rights to property and liberty by some, may constitute a measure to promote and protect human rights of others. In employment law - the only field where the EU ban on age discrimination is applied - this is a typical situation. If such a situation occurs, the principle of proportionality must be applied in a bifurcated way.It is not sufficient that the limitation of property rights is proportionate for the achievement of a public policy aim. If the aim of public policy is to enable the effective use of human rights, the limitation of the state action must be proportionate to the protection and promotion of those human rights. It is argued that the principle of proportionality is superior to less structures balancing acts (e.g. the Wednesbury principle), if it is applied both ways. Going over to the field of age discrimination, the chapter identifies a number of potentially colliding aims pursued in this field. Banning age discrimination may relate to genuine aims of anti-discrimination law if bias against older or very young workers is addressed. However, the EU ban of discrimination against all ages also serves to restructure employment law and policy to the age of flexibilisation, replacing the synchronisation principle that has been predominant for the welfare states of the 20th century. The former aim is related to human rights protection, while the latter aim is not (at least not always). This has consequences for applying the proportionality test. The chapter proposes different ways to argue the most difficult age discrimination cases, where anti-discrimination rationales and flexibilisation rationales clash
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAge Discrimination and Labour Law: Comparative and Conceptual Perspectives in the EU and beyond
EditorsAnn Numhauser-Henning, Mia Roennmar
Number of pages61
ISBN (Print)9789041149794
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2015


  • age discrimination
  • European Union
  • Labour Law
  • proportionality

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Proportionality in Age Discrimination Cases - a Model Suitable for Socially Embedded Rights'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this