by Michael Fox
Particularly if it has a component that provides extra time for employees who become disabled before the regular retirement age, and denies those disability payments to those who work beyond regular retirement age. That's the lesson in today's en banc holding in EEOC v. Jefferson County Sheriff's Department(6th Cir. 10/31/06).
Although at first I thought this might be an application of a disparate impact analysis, instead the finding was based on disparate treatment. Finding the plan facially discriminatory, the majority found the EEOC had made a prima facie case without any other showing of intent and reversed summary judgment for the employer and its plan.
The dissent makes a sensible argument, at least to me, that the plan really provided only an insurance component to ensure that an employee who was disabled and thus prevented from working a full 20 years, would be entitled to what he would have been able to obtain absent the disability. A benefit that will now be lost under the majority's ruling.
Although the argument makes sense to me, it didn't carry the day, so if you have a pension plan that sounds at all like this, and employee's located within the confines of the 6th Circuit, a call to your friendly pension lawyer for a checkup is in order.