6th Cir (Age Discrimination): EEOC v. Jefferson Cnty (WD KY 10/31/2006)

EEOC v. Jefferson Cnty
Western District of Kentucky at Louisville
Age Discrimination
06a0405p.06 10/31/2006

KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge. Plaintiff-Appellant the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) brings this public-enforcement age-discrimination lawsuit against Defendants-Appellees the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, the Kentucky Retirement Systems, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky (referred to collectively as “KRS”), alleging that KRS’s disability-retirement-benefits plan for state and county employees violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., as amended by the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (“OWBPA”), Pub. Law 101-433, 104 Stat. 978 (1990). The KRS disability-retirement-benefits plan (hereinafter “The KRS plan”) disqualifies employees who are still working from receiving disability-retirement benefits if they have already reached normal retirement-benefit age at the time they become disabled. The KRS plan also calculates disability retirement benefits in such a way that an older employee who is eligible to receive disability benefits receives fewer benefits — in the form of lower monthly benefit payments — than a younger disabled employee receiving disability-retirement benefits who is similar to the older disabled employee in every relevant factor other than age.

Both the district court and the original panel of this court concluded that pursuant to Lyon v. Ohio Education Association and Professional Staff Union, 53 F.3d 135 (6th Cir. 1995), the EEOC had failed to establish a prima facie violation of the ADEA. Lyon concluded that a retirement plan that used age as a factor to determine benefits in a materially indistinguishable manner to the way that age is used in the KRS plan did not establish a prima facie violation of the ADEA despite the fact that older workers received lower benefits because of their age. Lyon held that in addition to demonstrating disparate treatment on the basis of age, a plaintiff needed to produce evidence of discriminatory animus against older people in order to survive the employer’s summary-judgment motion.

After reviewing the parties’ arguments and the relevant law, we conclude that the EEOC has established a prima facie violation of the ADEA, because the KRS plan is facially discriminatory on the basis of age. Supreme Court authority on disparate-treatment-discrimination claims as well as the persuasive authority of many of the other circuits and the history of the ADEA (as amended by the OWBPA) demonstrate that KRS is not entitled to summary judgment. We further hold that when an employment policy or benefit plan such as the KRS plan is facially discriminatory, a plaintiff challenging that policy does not need additional proof of discriminatory animus in order to establish a prima facie disparate-treatment claim. Upon en banc review, we conclude that Lyon’s standard for a disparate-treatment age-discrimination claim is inconsistent with Supreme Court authority as well as the rulings of several of our sister circuits in cases involving the similar role of age in employee-benefit plans. We therefore overrule in part our previous decision in Lyon.

Because we conclude that the EEOC has established a prima facie claim of age discrimination, we REVERSE the district court’s grant of summary judgment to KRS on the EEOC’s age-discrimination claim and REMAND the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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