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PRESS RELEASE
4-12-10

Federal Court Rules For EEOC In Age Bias Suit Against Minnesota Department Of Corrections

Early Retirement Incentive Plan Violated Age Discrimination Law, Judge Finds

MINNEAPOLIS  – A federal judge in Minneapolis  has ruled that the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) violated federal  age discrimination law by maintaining an early retirement incentive plan (ERIP)  that reduced benefits for persons over age 55, the U.S. Equal Employment  Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today.

Under the ERIP, an employee who  retired at age 55 would get employer contributions for health and dental  insurance until age 65, but an employee who retired after age 55 would get no such  employer contributions towards health and dental coverage.

In its age discrimination lawsuit  against DOC, the EEOC contended that the incentive plans contained in  collective bargaining agreements for DOC employees violate the ADEA because  they facially discriminate based upon age.  (EEOC v. Minnesota Department of  Corrections et al., Civ. 08-05252 PAM/FLN in U.S. District Court for the  District of Minnesota). The EEOC  asserted that these agreements constituted arbitrary age discrimin­ation, and  the agency sought judgment against the DOC, including unions as nominal parties,  so that the collect­ive bargaining agreements could be revised to remove the  provisions.

In an order issued on April 8, 2010, U.S.  District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson held that the early retirement incentives  are “facially discriminatory, and, as such, violate the ADEA.” He noted that the “law on intent is clear: when  a plan is discriminatory on its face, ‘intent to discriminate can be  presumed.’” The court affirmed that an  early retirement incentive plan cannot condition its benefits solely based on  age, and rejected the argument of the Department of Corrections that the 2008  decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Kentucky  Retirement Systems v. EEOC barred the EEOC’s suit. The Department of Corrections had argued that  the Kentucky Retirement case changed  the law with respect to retirement plans which discriminate based solely on the  age of the participant.

The court ordered the parties to  complete discovery on the damage issues, and following submission of damage  claims, stated that it will enter judgment for the EEOC.

“This is a significant victory for  the employees of the DOC,” said John C. Hendrickson, regional attorney for the  EEOC’s Chicago District, which has jurisdiction over cases in Minnesota.  “There are innumerable ways to have lawful early retirement programs,  but there is one way that it indisputably unlawful, and that is to exclude  persons solely because they are over a specified age.”

EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Laurie  A. Vasichek, who leads the Commission’s litigation team, said, “The EEOC has  battled discriminatory early retirement programs for years. We hope this opinion will send a wake-up call  to employers who continue to maintain these discriminatory policies: you cannot  punish someone because he wants to keep working past a certain age.”

The EEOC’s trial team also included  Associate Regional Attorney Jean Kamp and Nicholas Pladson and Jessica  Palmer-Denig, trial attorneys in the EEOC’s Minneapolis office.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting  employment discrimination. The EEOC’s Chicago District  Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative  enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois,  Wisconsin, Minnesota,  Iowa and North and South  Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee  and Minneapolis. Further information about the EEOC is available on its  web site at www.eeoc.gov.