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Baltimore County appeals ruling on pension back pay to Supreme Court

Baltimore County is asking the Supreme Court to review a decision by an appellate court finding it owes more than a decade of back pay to older employees who contributed to the county pension plan at a higher rate.

The September opinion by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held the Age Discrimination in Employment Act requires mandatory back pay upon a finding of liability. A trial judge found the county liable in 2012 for its higher contribution rates for employees 40 and older and the 4th Circuit later upheld that decision.

The county changed its policy in 2007. Employees hired after the change paid the same rate regardless of age. The parties and unions involved approved a plan for gradual equalization of contribution rates for remaining employees in 2016, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pursued retroactive and prospective damages for the unequal rates paid until they were equalized.

The EEOC lost at the U.S. District Court level in 2016, but the 4th Circuit reversed, finding Congress adopted the remedy provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act into the ADEA, which requires back pay.

In its petition, the county argues the 4th Circuit’s ruling is in conflict with precedent over monetary relief in pension cases, its conclusion has not been reached by any other federal court, and the ordered relief would involve individualized review and calculations for more than 12,000 pension beneficiaries.

“The Fourth Circuit’s holding is erroneous because it fails to recognize the havoc it will cause to the County’s pension plan administrators,” the petition states.

The county also argues the ADEA allows the district court to grant legal and equitable relief as appropriate and that this discretion means there is no mandatory relief.

“The Fourth Circuit’s decision not only withdrew this jurisdictional grant of discretionary authority from the district court, it handed it to the EEOC,” the petition alleges.

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. Attorneys for the EEOC told the 4th Circuit it would not pursue back pay for the years the case sat dormant.

There is no estimate for what the remedy could end up costing the county. A spokesperson declined to comment beyond the filing Monday.

The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Baltimore County et al., No. 16-2216.

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