Supreme Court to Decide on Age Discrimination by KY System

January 11, 2008 ( - The U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide on whether Kentucky's public employee retirement plan discriminates against older workers who become disabled.

Louisville ‘s 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. Stewart represents the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which brought the suit on behalf of retired Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Lickteig.

“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.

Lickteig 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. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the state in 2006.(See KY Retirement Systems Cleared of Age Discrimination Charges).

 Robert Klausner, a Plantation, Florida, attorney representing the Kentucky Retirement Systems, pointed out that the Kentucky system’s requirements for retirement are 20 years of service or age 55. “Age is not the only determinant, and ‘age’ is not a bad word,” Klausner said, according to the news report.

However, Justice Anthony Kennedy disputed the assertion that the Kentucky plan does not discriminate based on age. “Age is the explicit factor that the statute uses. … Now, maybe there are some good reasons for doing that … but it seems to me it does make an explicit determination based on age as to some people,” Kennedy said.

Taking another stance, Justice Samuel Alito suggested retirement plans need to consider age. He noted that federal laws against age discrimination are intended to prohibit arbitrary bias.

But, Stewart suggested there are a number of alternative ways the system could compute benefits for workers who become disabled that are not based on age. “There would be probably an infinite number of ways it could be done as long as age were not used as the basis,” he told the court.

The court will issue a ruling in the case later this year.