Report: 3 State Agencies Sued for Age Discrimination

The state's departments of Commerce, Public Safety, and Natural Resources allegedly violated age discrimination laws by offering incentives such as health and dental benefits to workers who retired at 55-but not to older workers.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Monday filed three nearly identical federal lawsuits against Minnesota's departments of Commerce, Public Safety, and Natural Resources, according to the Star Tribune.

The lawsuits reportedly allege that the three state agencies violated age discrimination laws by signing collective bargaining agreements that included health and dental benefits for workers who retired at 55-but not for older workers. According to the Star Tribune, the EEOC said that such provisions are violations of the Age Discrimination clause of the federal Employment Act.

Jean Kamp, an associate regional attorney for the EEOC who has worked on the lawsuits, told the Minneapolis newspaper that the just-filed suits affect about seven to 10 retirees.

The EEOC filed a similar lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Corrections in 2008, the Star Tribune reported. The agency was ordered by a district judge to pay 36 affected retired workers' back salaries to the tune of $770,904-plus future premium costs totaling $530,363.

When the Minnesota Law Enforcement Association-which represents the affected corrections employees-argued in an appeal that the so-called “age-55” cliff was an allowable provision of its contract with the state, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reportedly deemed the provision discriminatory because it denied employees benefits based solely on age.

While the appeal was pending, the EEOC in April negotiated a settlement in a similar lawsuit with the Minnesota Department of Human Services that required it to pay $467,000 to 29 people who were denied retiree health and dental insurance.

Anne Barry, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, told the Star Tribune that the state has taken steps to rectify the contractual language in various union bargaining agreements since the April settlement with the EEOC.

The three agencies involved in the latest batch of lawsuits reportedly haven't commented on the matter.

Kamp said that it's uncertain how much money might be at stake in the current batch of suits and said that it's likely to be a small amount relative to the earlier suits.

To read more in the Star Tribune about current and former age discrimination lawsuits involving state agencies, click here.