BOSTON -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced the settlement of an age discrimination lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, its Public Employees Retirement Administration Commission, and the Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement Board, on behalf of all state, local, and municipal employees who have been discriminated against in applying for accidental disability retirements under the Massachusetts public retirement system.
Noting that the Supreme Court recently cut off the right of individual employees to sue states under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), EEOC Chairwoman Ida L. Castro said, "The scope of this settlement should put all state employers on notice that the EEOC will continue to monitor states closely to ensure compliance with the ADEA and protect workers from age bias regardless of whether they are employed in the private or public sectors."
The settlement, which extends back to October 16, 1992, will provide accidental disability retirement pensions to all those otherwise eligible who were either denied or discouraged from applying for these pensions solely because their ages exceeded the Commonwealth's maximum age limitations. In addition, the Commonwealth has agreed to pay double damages to all those who qualify for relief under the settlement. The total amount of the monetary relief is open ended and will be determined only after all of the retirement applications have been processed.
The settlement brings to a close years of litigation in which the EEOC sued the Commonwealth repeatedly for its retirement system's violations of the ADEA. Shortly before the settlement was approved by U.S. District Judge Richard G. Stearns of the District of Massachusetts, the Commonwealth amended its retirement statute to delete those provisions that discriminated on the basis of age.
"We are pleased that the Commonwealth has amended its statute and settled this case with full relief for all those affected by age discrimination," said EEOC General Counsel C. Gregory Stewart. "The settlement makes clear that employers must allow older workers to apply for and receive post-employment benefits without limitations based on their age."
EEOC's lawsuit, filed on June 9, 1999, charged the Commonwealth with discriminating on the basis of age in preventing employees who exceeded certain ages from applying for accidental disability retirement pensions. On January 27, 2000, Judge Stearns ruled that the Commonwealth and the other defendants had violated the ADEA and he entered an order permanently enjoining the Commonwealth from enforcing the unlawful age limitations.
Since 1989, the EEOC has successfully filed several lawsuits against the Commonwealth, alleging that the retirement system discriminated against persons because of their age. In 1990, Judge Rya W. Zobel of the U.S. District Court held that the system's policy of not allowing persons age 70 and older to increase their retirement pension through employment past age 70 discriminated against older workers. In 1993, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals held that the policy of requiring employees age 70 and older to take an annual physical exam at their own expense to continue working discriminated against older employees. In 1996, the First Circuit held that the Commonwealth again violated the ADEA by preventing persons age 65 and older from joining the Commonwealth's retirement system.
"This is an important case that, we hope, will bring to a close the efforts of the New York District Office and the Boston Area Office of the EEOC to bring the Commonwealth's retirement system into compliance with the ADEA," said Katherine Bissell, Acting Regional Attorney of the EEOC's New York District Office, who was responsible for prosecuting this case with Markus Penzel, an attorney in the EEOC's Boston Area Office. "We would like to commend the efforts of the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General to both resolve this case promptly and fully, and to work with the legislature in amending the statute."
In addition to enforcing the ADEA, which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older, the EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin; the Equal Pay Act; prohibitions against discrimination affecting individuals with disabilities in the federal sector; sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991; and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency's web site at www.eeoc.gov.
This page was last modified on August 11, 2000.
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