A federal judge has ruled that an early retirement incentive plan at the state Department of Corrections discriminates against older employees.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Monday announced the ruling in the age discrimination lawsuit that was filed in September 2008.
The case centered on an early retirement plan that rewarded corrections employees who retired at age 55 with employer contributions for health and dental insurance until they turned 65. But under the plan, employees who retired after age 55 did not receive the employer contributions.
An estimated 50 state corrections employees were affected.
The corrections department had argued that a previous age discrimination case barred the EEOC's lawsuit, but U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson ruled earlier this month that the early retirement incentives were discriminatory.
In a written statement, the Department of Corrections said it is working with the Attorney General's Office and Minnesota Management & Budget to review the court's decision and evaluate the state's legal options.
The statement also said Magnuson found that department officials "acted in good faith and could have reasonably believed the plan was lawful."
Laurie Vasichek, a senior trial attorney for the EEOC based in Minneapolis, said corrections officials will have to change the policy. In addition, people who were denied the benefits when retiring after age 55 will be able to get the benefits, at least for a certain amount of time, she said.
"It certainly confirmed the position of the EEOC, which was that programs like this that various employers have are unlawful," Vasichek said of the ruling. "It's an important decision in that respect."
Vasichek said early retirement programs are attractive to employees and employers alike, but she said there are restrictions.
"They have to be done in a way that complies with the Age Discrimination Employment Act. In other words, they can't be solely based upon age," she said.