Supreme Court won’t review Baltimore County back pay ruling

An appellate opinion finding Baltimore County owes more than a decade of back pay to some of its employees will stand after the Supreme Court declined to review the case Monday.

The county has been in litigation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for years over the 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, but the EEOC pursued damages for the employees affected.

A U.S. District judge denied the request, but on appeal the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held the Age Discrimination in Employment Act requires back pay. The county petitioned for review in the Supreme Court and was denied.

The case will be remanded to the trial court for a determination on the amount of back pay owed. The county has not made any recent estimates about the potential cost but claimed in its petition to the Supreme Court that the 4th Circuit’s decision failed to “recognize the havoc it will cause to the County’s pension plan administrators.”

The county estimates 12,000 beneficiaries are affected by the decision.

County spokesman T.J. Smith said Monday that the county will continue to defend the interests of taxpayers but pointed to the time and expense that complying with the court’s decision will require.

“Moving forward, it will, undoubtedly, take longer and will use a considerable amount of money and personnel to determine the damages,” he said.

The EEOC declined to comment Monday.

The EEOC first issued notices of charges of age discrimination in 1999 and 2000 but did not pursue the case until 2006, when it issued a letter determining discrimination occurred and filed suit the following year. On appeal, the agency agreed the delay was not reasonable and said it would not pursue damages for the years between the initial notice and letter of determination.

4th Circuit

The county argued in its petition to the Supreme Court that the 4th Circuit’s ruling was in conflict with precedent over monetary relief in pension cases and its conclusion had not been reached by any other federal court.

The EEOC replied that there was no conflict because no court has ruled, as the county argued, that back pay awards under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act are discretionary.

In its published opinion, the 4th Circuit panel determined back pay was mandatory under the ADEA because the law incorporated the remedy provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“Because Congress adopted the enforcement procedures and remedies of the FLSA into the ADEA, we construe the ADEA consistent with the cited statutory language in and judicial interpretations of the FLSA,” the three-judge panel concluded. “Back pay is, and was at the time Congress passed the ADEA, a mandatory legal remedy under the FLSA.”

The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Baltimore County et al., No. 18-781.

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