On June 19, 2008, the United State Supreme Court found that a pension plan that discriminated against an older worker did not violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Law (“ADEA”). In Kentucky Retirement Sys. v. EEOC, 128 S. Ct. 2361 (2008), the Court examined a state pension plan. Under the plan, certain workers, such as policemen, are identified as “hazardous position” workers. They can receive normal retirement benefits when additional years are added to their years of service if they become disabled prior to their normal retirement age. However, when an older employee worked after his normal retirement age and then became disabled, the additional years were not added to his years of service.
The employee filed an age discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the EEOC sued the Kentucky Retirement System. The federal District Court ruled that there was no age discrimination, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, finding no violation. The Court found that age was not an “actual motivation” for the decision to calculate retirement benefits differently. Relying upon years of service to determine pension status is not the same as relying upon age. The Court noted that there was no “prohibited stereotype” or that the different treatment was “the result of an inaccurate and denigrating generalization about age.” Although the older worker was treated differently, the treatment was not due to his age but, instead, was due to eligibility requirements under the pension plan. Differences based upon age are a violation of the ADEA.