Fourth Circuit Upholds Lower Court Determination That Baltimore County Pension Plan Discriminates Based on Age
BALTIMORE - In a second victory for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in this case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected Baltimore County's appeal of a district court decision finding that Baltimore County's pension plan discriminates based on age, the EEOC announced today. The court's 17-page opinion, issued on March 31, affirmed the grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the EEOC finding that Baltimore County maintained a retirement plan in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) and remands the case for further proceedings on the issue of damages.
The EEOC initially filed suit against Baltimore County in September 2007 (EEOC v. Baltimore County, et al, Case No. BEL-07-2500) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Northern Division), charging that the county discriminated against Wayne A. Lee, Richard J. Bosse, Sr., and a class of similarly situated employees at least 40 years of age by requiring them to pay higher pension contributions than those paid by younger employees for the same pension benefits, based on their ages at hire. The EEOC also named various county labor organizations as defendants because they must negotiate with Baltimore County to effectuate the changes sought in its lawsuit.
The district court initially awarded summary judgment in favor of Baltimore County, but the Fourth Circuit vacated that decision. On remand following the first appeal, the district court concluded that the pension plan violated the ADEA, and awarded partial summary judgment in favor of the EEOC. Baltimore County filed an appeal. The Fourth Circuit again found in the EEOC's favor, affirmed the grant of partial summary judgment and ordered the case remanded to the trial court for further proceedings on the issue of damages.
The Fourth Circuit rejected Baltimore County's argument that the Supreme Court's decision in Kentucky Retirement v. EEOC, 554 U.S. 135 (2008) excused the pension practice. The appellate court noted that unlike Kentucky's retirement plan, which treated employees differently based on their pension status rather than on their age, Baltimore County's plan impermissibly "mandated different contribution rates that escalated explicitly in accordance with employees' ages at the time of their enrollment in the plan."
"This is a very gratifying and hard-fought victory for the EEOC," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "The EEOC brought this case to ensure basic equal treatment. Certain older Baltimore County employees were forced to pay more for their pensions than younger coworkers. That's age discrimination, plain and simple, as both the Fourth Circuit and the trial court recognized. The case now needs to go back to the trial court to figure out the amount of damages due to the victims. I hope the parties can get on with that task quickly, so these older workers can finally have the justice and relief they deserve."
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "It is fundamentally unfair, and a blatant violation of the ADEA, to base pension contributions for the same benefits explicitly on age. The older workers had to pay a larger percentage of their salary to the pension plan despite receiving the same pension benefits as younger workers, which means they were doing the same job for less money because of their age. We are pleased that the Fourth Circuit agreed with us that Baltimore County's pension plan violates federal law."
This resolution is the latest in a series of systemic discrimination suits the EEOC has brought against public employers alleging age discrimination in the provision of retirement benefits. In several cases against Minnesota state agencies, the federal agency challenged early retirement incentive plans that denied health benefits for those employees who chose not to retire right when they turned 55. The Eighth Circuit agreed that the plan violated the ADEA. In a case against an Arizona school district, the EEOC challenged a retirement plan that granted more compensation for unused leave to younger employees than to older employees.
The EEOC's Philadelphia District oversees Maryland as well as Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.