Disability Retirement Plan Age Limit to Be Reviewed by Supreme Court

On September 25, 2007, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to review E.E.O.C. v. Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, 467 F.3d 571 (6th Cir. 2006).   This case involved an age-discrimination lawsuit concerning a disability retirement plan.   The retirement plan disqualifies employees from receiving disability-retirement benefits if they are still working and have reached the normal retirement age at the time they become disabled.  The plan purportedly calculates disability retirement benefits so that older workers who are eligible to receive disability benefits receive lower monthly benefit payments than younger workers.  Specifically, if a person is not eligible for retirement, his benefits are enhanced by adding remaining years of service until retirement.  In contrast, the benefits of a person eligible for retirement are calculated based on actual years of service.  In some situations, this difference in treatment apparently results in higher benefits for the person who becomes disabled prior to his normal retirement date.

The Sixth Circuit held that the EEOC established a prima facie case of age discrimination because this difference in benefits is facially discriminatory against older workers.

The individual who filed the charge with the EEOC was denied disability retirement because he had reached the age of retirement at the time he was disabled, in his case 55-years of age because he was a sheriff, which the plan defined as a hazardous position.