ExxonMobil Pilot Retirement Mandate Survives Legal Challenge

May 8, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal judge in Texas has dismissed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit alleging ExxonMobil violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) by requiring its corporate pilots to retire at age 60.

U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade of the   U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas asserted that the giant energy company had a good reason for the mandatory retirement rule that was patterned after a similar mandate for commercial pilots from theFederal Aviation Administration (FAA).Kinkeade turned away an EEOC argument that the jobs of corporate pilot and commercial airline pilot differ significantly, saying there no material differences and the same valid safety rationale underlies the FAA rule and ExxonMobil’s mandatory retirement policy.

“[T]he summary judgment evidence establishes that the vast majority of safety concerns that apply to commercial airline pilots apply with equal force to Exxon’s pilots,” Kinkeade wrote in his opinion. “Most fundamentally, a concern that as a pilot’s skills deteriorate with age the risk of an accident increases applies to both commercial pilots and Exxon’s pilots. … [T]he court concludes that the work performed by Exxon’s pilots is congruent with the work performed by commercial pilots in all material ways.”

According to the opinion,   ExxonMobil maintains a fleet of private aircraft that includes nine sophisticated jets to transport its employees and corporate guests worldwide. The jets carry eight to 11 passengers each, have a range of 3,000 to 6,000 miles, and can travel at speeds of more than 500 miles per hour. The company’s 27 pilots are required to meet the same qualifications as commercial airline pilots.

“EEOC goes into painstaking detail describing the differences between Exxon’s aircraft and commercial aircraft; the EEOC goes as far as to submit [evidence] pointing out the differences in the lavatories, the type of coffee provided on board, and towels used on the plane,” Kinkeade noted. “Needless to say, these are nothing more than distinctions without differences. The court is persuaded that there is no material difference, for purpose of this inquiry, between the planes used by Exxon and the types of planes used by commercial airlines.”

After the EEOC filed the ADEA suit against ExxonMobil, Congress passed and the president signed the Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act (FTEPA), which raised to 65 the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots effective December 2007 (See  New Pilot Retirement Age Signed into Law ). Exxon has since amended its internal policy to conform to the new law, the opinion said.

The case is EEOC v. Exxon Mobil Corp.,   N.D. Tex., No. 3:06-CV-1732-K.