Cashing in on Mandatory Retirement

NJIt’s hard to sympathize with Drew Lieb.

He recently filed a lawsuit alleging age discrimination by the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Civil Preparedness.

I don’t know whether Lieb lost his $130,000-a-year position as Deputy Director of the state homeland office because of age discrimination. I do know that New Jersey Watchdog  reported that Lieb previously retired as a New Jersey state trooper with a pension of $96,144. So the taxpayers of New Jersey were paying Lieb a total of $226,144 a year, including his salary and his pension.

In the private sector, pensions are virtually extinct. According to one study, the number of Fortune 500 companies offering traditional defined benefit pension plans dropped 86 percent from 1998 to 2013, from 251 to 34. Many employers do not offer workers any retirement plan and those that do offer 401K plans, which are based on worker contributions.

Lieb’s case demonstrates a failing of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which permits states to require public safety officers to retire at age 55.  This age limit is purely subjective. Many 55-year-old public safety officers are more capable of performing their jobs than younger officers who are less fit.  And mandatory retirement effectively allows public safety workers to retire from one public safety job with a fat pension just to take a similar public safety job with a fat paycheck.

Many states allow public safety officials to retire even sooner, after they have accumulated a predetermined number of years of service.

 

A Seven Year Age Difference is ‘Significant’

MetLife
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There was a seven year age difference between the 27-year veteran of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and the man who replaced him after he was fired in 2013.

Is that age difference significant enough to raise an inference of age discrimination? Yes, says a federal appeals court based in Atlanta.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in December reinstated an age discrimination lawsuit filed by Robert Liebman, the 49-year-old  managing director of the MetLife’s West Palm Beach and Boca Raton offices who was fired in 2013 for “poor performance” in a cost-cutting move. Liebman was replaced by Neil Weiss, 42, whom Liebman hired as a salesperson in 2007.

Not only did Liebman lose his job but he  lost about $90,000 per year in pension benefits that were scheduled to vest at age 55 and begin at age 60.  Liebman was one of MetLife’s highest paid managing sales directors.

U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks of Florida cited several grounds  (all reversed by the appeals court) in granting MetLife’s pretrail motion to dismiss Liebman’s lawsuit alleging age discrimination and a violation of ERISA, the federal law governing pensions.

Judge Middlebrooks found it significant that Liebman’s replacement, Weiss, was a member of the class of workers aged 40 and above who are protected under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Moreover, he said Liebman failed to prove he was qualified for his position and was performing as expected.

The appellate panel ruled the “proper inquiry” is not whether  Liebman’s replacement was within the ADEA’s protected class but whether he was “substantially younger” than Liebman. The appeals court said the seven-year age difference between Liebman and Weiss “qualified as substantially younger.”

Moreover, the appeals court panel scoffed at the notion that Liebman, who had performed the duties of managing director for nine years, had failed to show he was qualified for his position. “Nine years in the same position, and nearly three decades at the company, is long enough to support the inference that he was qualified for his job,” said the appeals court, which also noted that Liebman had received many leadership awards from MetLife. Continue reading “A Seven Year Age Difference is ‘Significant’”