The provision of the Statute of Vilnius University that does not establish criteria for deciding on the conclusion of fixed-term employment contracts with scientists and lecturers of over 65 years of age was declared anticonstitutional
The Constitutional Court recognised by the ruling adopted on 12 February 2021 that the provision “Lecturers and researchers (in either science or arts) of over 65 years of age are entitled to work at the University if the Senate approves that a fixed-term employment contract for a period not exceeding three years is concluded. Upon a decision of the Senate, such a contract may be renewed once” of Paragraph 9 of Article 15 of the Statute of Vilnius University (hereinafter referred to as the Statute), insofar as that provision creates the preconditions for the Senate to approve, at its discretion and in the absence of criteria known in advance, the conclusion of fixed-term employment contracts with lecturers and researchers (in either science or arts) of over 65 years of age, is in conflict with Article 29 of the Constitution, which enshrines the principle of the equality of the rights of persons, the provision “Everyone may freely choose a job or business” of Paragraph 1 of Article 48 thereof, and the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law.
The petitioner – the Vilnius Regional Court – applied to the Constitutional Court, having suspended a civil case considered by it under appeal procedure, in which the dispute arose as to the lawfulness of the dismissal of the claimant from work. The claimant, a former researcher in science at Vilnius University (hereinafter referred to as “VU”), appealed to the court considering that he had been dismissed from his post due to age discrimination.
The Constitutional Court noted that the legal regulation establishing a maximum age limit of 65 years, above which scientists and lecturers may work at VU only by way of exception, implements VU’s right, which is implied by the autonomy of this school of higher education, guaranteed in Paragraph 3 of Article 40 of the Constitution, to pursue such a policy of employing scientists and lecturers according to which, taking into account the tradition developed by VU since the restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Lithuania, quality in higher education is associated with the need for dynamism of scientific and educational activities and for changes of generations of scientists and lecturers.
The Constitutional Court also noted that the age limit of 65 years is not lower than the age for an old-age pension established in the Law on Social Insurance Pensions; moreover, the other provisions of the Statute consolidate the conditions for professors and other long-term scientists and lecturers at VU who have reached the retirement age limit to maintain scientific, educational, and creative relationships with VU upon the termination of their employment contracts with VU.
Thus, the establishment of a maximum age limit of 65 years, up to which scientists and lecturers can normally work in VU, should be considered a necessary and proportionate measure for achieving the constitutionally important objective of ensuring quality in higher education by securing a consistent and optimal change of scientists and lecturers in order to encourage younger qualified scientists and lecturers to work in VU.
The ruling also states that the Statute did not lay down any criteria according to which the Senate approves the conclusion of such fixed-term employment contracts with scientists and lecturers of over 65 years of age. Thus, according to the impugned provision of Paragraph 9 of Article 15 of the Statute, the preconditions were created for the Senate to approve or not to approve at its discretion the conclusion of fixed-term employment contracts with lecturers and researchers (in either science or arts) of over 65 years of age. Such a legal regulation created the preconditions for unequal treatment of scientists and lecturers of over 65 years of age.
The Constitutional Court noted that the Statute should establish such general criteria (such as the need to ensure the implementation of certain study programmes, the continuity of research). Those criteria can be specified in legal acts adopted by the Senate – the collegial governance body of VU, which represents the academic community of VU and implements its self-governance.