Court Ruled That County Forced Employees Hired at Older Ages to Pay More for Pensions
BALTIMORE - Baltimore County will pay approximately $5.4 million to over 2,000 county employees resolve a federal age discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, Baltimore County maintains a defined benefit pension plan based in part on employee contributions deducted from each paycheck. Under the county code, employee contribution rates were based on age at entry into the retirement system, with older employees paying higher rates than younger members for the same benefits.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination based on age, including with respect to fringe benefits such as pensions. Two county correctional officers filed discrimination charges with the EEOC. In 2007, the EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Baltimore County et al., Civil Action No. 1:07-cv-2500-RDB) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Northern Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The case progressed for 13 years prior to resolution, and was one of the longest-running lawsuits on the EEOC's docket. In 2012, the district court granted partial summary judgment for the EEOC, ruling that the county's pension plan was facially discriminatory and not justified by financial considerations, thus violating the ADEA. EEOC v. Balt. Cnty., 2012 WL 5077631 (D. Md. Oct. 17, 2012). In 2014, the Fourth Circuit affirmed and remanded for further proceedings to address the issue of damages. EEOC v. Balt. Cnty., 747 F.2d 267 (4th Cir. 2014). In 2016, the parties resolved EEOC's claims for injunctive relief through a joint order under which the county eliminated age-based contribution rates. In 2016, the district court determined that no monetary relief was appropriate. EEOC v. Balt. Cnty., 202 F. Supp. 3d 499 (D. Md. 2016). However, in 2018, the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that "a retroactive monetary award of back pay under the ADEA is mandatory upon a finding of liability." EEOC v. Balt. Cnty., 904 F.3d 330, 333 (4th Cir. 2018). In October 2019, the district court ordered that the EEOC could recover back pay accruing between March 2006 and April 2016, for eligible class members.
Under the consent order resolving this lawsuit, the county will pay approximately $5.4 million to more than 2,000 retirees. This amount fully compensates all individuals who meet class eligibility criteria established by the court and who paid a higher contribution rate than he or she would have paid if age had not been a factor in determining employee contribution rates.
"We are pleased that thousands of retirees who overpaid for their pensions, some for many years, are finally being reimbursed," said EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Maria Salacuse. "We appreciate the willingness of the county and the trustees of the retirement system to bring this case to resolution."
EEOC Assistant General Counsel Christopher Lage said, "This case was important for the EEOC to bring. Only the EEOC can sue state and local governments under the ADEA, and thus this violation would have gone without remedy absent the EEOC's lawsuit. The case also confirmed the important principle that back pay is a mandatory legal remedy under the ADEA."
The EEOC's Baltimore Field Office is one of four offices in the EEOC Philadelphia District Office, which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. Attorneys in the EEOC Philadelphia District Office also prosecute discrimination cases in Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.