Baltimore County Settles Age Discrimination Lawsuit Regarding Pension Plan

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.

Baltimore County will pay approximately $5.4 million to more than 2,000 county employees to resolve a federal age discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The complaint was filed by the EEOC in 2007 on behalf of two retired correctional officers. It claimed the county had illegally forced some workers older than 40 to contribute to the county’s pension system at a higher rate than that required of younger workers. In 2012, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland found the plan to be “facially discriminatory” because it explained the different contribution rates required by different employees at entry into the plan were determined by age rather than pension status, thereby violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The court concluded there are no non-age-related financial considerations that justify the disparity in contribution rates between older and younger workers. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision and remanded the case for further proceedings to address the issue of damages.

In 2016, the parties resolved EEOC’s claims for injunctive relief through a joint order under which the county eliminated age-based contribution rates. That year, the district court determined that no monetary relief was appropriate. However, in 2018, the 4th Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that “a retroactive monetary award of back pay under the ADEA is mandatory upon a finding of liability.” 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.

In a statement, the EEOC said the amount under the consent order resolving the lawsuit “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.”

The case was one of the longest-running lawsuits on the EEOC’s docket. “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.”