Baltimore Co. seeks ruling to narrow class affected in back pay case

Baltimore County is asking a federal judge to narrow the class of county employees entitled to damages in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission age discrimination case.

The county owes more than a decade of back pay to some of its employees after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the EEOC last year and the Supreme Court declined to hear the county’s appeal. The 4th Circuit reversed the trial court and held that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act makes back pay mandatory.

The case returned to the trial court for a determination on damages owed and the county filed a motion earlier this month seeking a ruling on the scope of the class.

The EEOC originally sued over the county’s pension plan, which had higher contribution rates for employees 40 and older. The county changed its policy in 2007 and employees hired after the change paid the same rate regardless of age. The parties and unions involved agreed to a plan that gradually equalized contribution rates for those on the old plan.

The county estimated 12,000 pension beneficiaries are affected by the 4th Circuit’s decision, but in a letter to U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett Wednesday, the county raised a new allegation: that the EEOC initially had a much narrower definition of “aggrieved individual” in mind, but then pursued damages in court on behalf of a broader class.

Federal law requires the agency to seek voluntary compliance from an employer through a conciliation process before filing suit, according to the county, and the EEOC attempted to conciliate only with respect to the narrower class, not the broader one.

The “narrow class” discussed in conciliation consisted of individuals hired when they were 40 or older who were currently employed by the county, not those who were hired when they were below 40 who then paid the higher rate once they turned 40 or those no longer employed, according to the county.

“In conclusion, the County is respectfully requesting this Court to either (1) bind the EEOC to the narrower definition of the class it espoused in conciliation; or (2) order the EEOC to undertake the mandated efforts to obtain voluntary compliance with respect to the class as it has defined it in the lawsuit,” the letter concludes.

The county plans to file a supplement to its motion arguing this point, according to the filing.

A spokesman for the county declined to comment Thursday.

The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Baltimore County, 1:07-cv-02500.

By Heather Coburn September 12, 2019

 

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