Court Finds No Age Discrimination in Amended Medical Plan

September 16, 2003 ( - An amendment made to a retiree medical benefit plan to exclude workers younger than 50 years of age was not in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

>US District Judge Charles Norgle of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted the employer’s motion to dismiss the case on the basis that the employees alleging reverse age discrimination failed to make a claim under ADEA.   For this decision, the district court turned to earlier precedent sent by the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Hamilton v CaterPillar, Inc .

In Hamilton , the appellate court found that the “ADEA does not provide a remedy for reverse age discrimination.”   This was based on the appeals court’s reading of the law that “age discrimination is different than sex or race discrimination in that age discrimination does not cut both ways.”   Further, the 7th Circuit could find no reading of the ADEA that would interpret Congress’ intent to treat age bias the same way as that based on race or sex.

The employees argued against Hamilton , stating that unlike the former case, in this case –   Feigl v. Ecolab Inc – they were now being denied a right to which they were previously entitled:   the right to receive the retirees’ medical premium subsidy.   Norgle rejected this argument, finding no persuasion by the employee group that they are entitled to this right.

Additionally, the employees attempted to differentiate their situation from Hamilton in that the previous case involved a plant closing.   While Norgle agreed circumstances between the two cases are different, he rejected the argument since the plaintiffs presented no distinction that would lead to a different outcome.

>In fact, the district court held so fast to the Hamilton  ruling that the employees’ motion to stay all proceedings in the case pending the decision by the US Supreme Court’s decision in Cline v. General Dynamics Land Systems (See  Supremes To Consider Reverse ADEA Claim ) was dismissed.   The district court found there was no need to stay they proceeding since “the law in the Seventh Circuit is clear that ADEA does not provide a claim for age discrimination where the employer treats older workers more favorably than younger workers.”

“Ultimately, the Hamilton  court concluded that although the plaintiffs are within the protected class, an ADEA claim is not actionable where the plaintiffs allege they were treated less favorably than those who are older than the plaintiffs,” said Norgle.  

Case History

>The case arose following the March 1, 2002 amendment of Ecolab Inc’s retiree medical benefit plan that eliminated a previously available retiree medical coverage premium subsidy for all employees except two “grandfathered groups:”

  • participants of the plan who retired before June 30, 1993 or employees of the company since June 30, 1993 who were at least 55 years old or whose sum of eligible service and age equaled 70.
  • employees who were at least 50 years of age with five years of service as of February 28, 2002.

A group of employees – between the age of 40 and 50 as of February 28, 2002 – filed suit, alleging unlawful age discrimination by the company with the amendment of the plan.

The case is Feigl v. Ecolab Inc., Northern District of Illinois, Number 03 C 2290.