Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Adding to a series of recent employment law cases decided by the United States Supreme Court, the Court issued three more opinions affecting employment law on June 19, 2008: two interpreting the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) and one concerning the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”).

In Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC, 554 U.S. ___ (2008), a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that “differential treatment based on pension status, where pension status…itself turns, in part, on age” does not violate the ADEA. Specifically, Kentucky’s state retirement plan (the “Plan”) for employees in “hazardous positions” provided that an employee could obtain “normal” retirement benefits in two ways: (1) after 20 years of service; or (2) after 5 years of service provided the employee had attained the age of 55. If an employee became disabled prior to satisfying either avenue, however, the Plan would “impute” the number of years necessary to meet either the years of service or age requirement, whichever was less. The amount of benefits a retiree received depended upon the number of years of service (either actual or imputed).

The EEOC challenged the Plan on behalf of an employee who retired after becoming disabled at age 61. As the employee was already eligible for “normal” retirement benefits (having achieved 18 years of service and age 55), the Plan did not “impute” any additional years of service to him. The EEOC claimed that the Plan discriminated on the basis of age because had the employee become disabled before reaching age 55, he would have been credited with additional years of service and, therefore, received increased benefits. In rejecting the EEOC’s argument, the Supreme Court explained: “[w]here an employer adopts a pension plan that includes age as a factor, and that employer then treats employees differently based on pension status, a plaintiff, to state a disparate treatment claim under the ADEA, must adduce sufficient evidence to show that the differential treatment was ‘actually motivated’ by age, not pension status.” Because the EEOC had failed to produce such evidence, the Supreme Court found no violation of the ADEA.Continue Reading Supreme Court Issues Three Decisions Affecting the ADEA and ERISA