In a 5-4 ruling, the court said the retirement system reasonably takes age and length of service into account when structuring benefits for disabled workers who are eligible for retirement. In January, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that Malcolm Stewart, assistant to the U.S. solicitor general, told justices the state’s plan is structured so that two employees with the same years of service but of different ages who become disabled could receive dramatically different benefits (See Supreme Court to Decide on Age Discrimination by KY System).
“In calculating the retirement benefits owed to disabled workers, Kentucky uses age as an explicit decision-making factor in a way that disadvantages older workers,” said Stewart, according to the Courier-Journal.
The AP said Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion that the benefit at issue in the case is offered to all employees working in hazardous positions on the same nondiscriminatory terms, and that Congress has approved programs that calculate permanent disability benefits using a formula that expressly takes account of age. However, in dissent, Justice Anthony Kennedy said disparate treatment on the basis of age is prohibited by law and the court’s decision undercuts that basic framework.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought the suit on behalf of retired Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Lickteig who became disabled at age 61 after working for the sheriff’s office for 18 years. He was denied state disability benefits because he was eligible for normal retirement benefits.