In the news: Dinah Warnock

December 5, 2003

When Southampton University told Dinah Warnock that she was too old to work for the institution, age discrimination was shown to be flourishing within academe.

The government might be looking to encourage people to remain in work beyond the retirement age, but it seems that many higher education employers are distinctly uneasy about hiring older people to work for them.

Ms Warnock, a 67-year-old fashion expert, had been headhunted to give a lecture and tutorials at Winchester College of Art, part of the university. Her credentials were impressive: she has designed shoes for Edward Rayne, the former royal shoemaker, designed and made suits for a Bond Street gentleman's outfitter and, over the past decade, lectured in fashion and its history at the British Institute in Florence.

Senior staff who interviewed her were won over. Ms Warnock was the right person to fill a perceived gap in their course. She was told to prepare to teach first-year students about the history of fashion. Her suggestion to link this with the changing role of women in society was agreed.

The contract duly arrived. But when Ms Warnock returned it with a National Insurance exemption form, the offer was rescinded, just eight days before she was due to start work. She was told that the university had a policy of not employing anyone over the normal retirement age.

Ms Warnock's case was taken up by Age Concern, a charity that campaigns on behalf of older people. Southampton confirmed to the director of Age Concern Hampshire that barring those above retirement age was policy, adding that it hoped this would not be affected by government plans to outlaw age discrimination, pencilled in for 2006. It felt it would have been unfair to make an exception to its rule in Ms Warnock's case.

Others who have faced similar prejudices have since made themselves known to Age Concern.

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