U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Upholds Kentucky Retirement Plan in Age Bias Case

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The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a 5-4 opinion that the use of age as a factor in Kentucky’s retirement plan does not violate the federal age bias law.

The plan treats younger workers in hazardous jobs who become disabled before retirement better than some older workers. The majority opinion (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog) by Justice Stephen G. Breyer said there was no evidence the disparity was motivated by age.

Younger workers under the plan who become disabled before they are eligible for normal retirement can retire at once. These workers receive imputed credit toward pension benefits for years of service that were never worked, but would have been needed to reach normal retirement. But those who become disabled after reaching the age of 55 do not get any additional years of imputed service since they are already eligible for retirement at that age.

A worker who sued over the plan had complained that two employees who become disabled at different ages could receive dramatically different benefits even though they had worked the same number of years for the state, the Associated Press reports.

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in an en banc opinion that the plan violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The Supreme Court dissenters argued the 6th Circuit was right. They included both liberals and conservatives: Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

“By embracing the approach rejected by the en banc panel and all other courts of appeals that have addressed this issue, this court creates unevenness in administration, unpredictability in litigation, and uncertainty as to employee rights once thought well-settled,” said the dissent, written by Kennedy.

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