Age Discrimination in the Airline Industry Essay

The airline industry has been involved in several age discrimination cases due to their pilot s required retirement policy; which states that pilots must retire at age 60. The airlines main concerns are that the pilots are not physically capable to perform job duties adequately after age 60. It is thought that job performance declines with increasing age. People may become less coordinated and attentive, develop slower reaction times, and may develop degenerative eyesight. The airlines feel that this is putting their company and passengers in danger if pilots over 60 are allowed to fly.

The pilots often disagree and state they are as physically fit as younger pilots and have much more experience. One case we can relate this issue to is United Airlines, Inc. v. McMann. McMann joined United Airlines, Inc. in 1944, and continued employment there until his retirement at age 60 in 1973. At the time when McMann was first employed, United maintained a formal retirement income plan it had begun in 1941, in which McMann was eligible to participate, but was not compelled to join. He voluntarily joined the plan in January 1964. The application form McMann signed showed the normal retirement age for participants in his category as 60 years.

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McMann reached his 60th birthday on January 23, 1973, and was retired on February 1, 1973, over his objection. He then filed a notice of intent to sue United for violation of the Act pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 626 (d). Although he received an opinion from the Department of Labor that United’s plan was bona fide and did not appear to be a subterfuge to evade the purposes of the Act, he brought this suit to court.

McMann’s suit in the District Court seeking injunctive relief, reinstatement, and backpay alleged his forced retirement was solely because of his age and was unlawful under the Act. United’s response was that McMann was retired in compliance with the provisions of a bona fide retirement plan which he had voluntarily joined. On facts as set, the District Court granted United’s motion for summary judgment. McMann argues the term “normal retirement age” is not defined in the plan other than in a provision that “A Participant’s Normal Retirement Date is the first day of the month following his 60th birthday.”

From this he contends normal retirement age does not mean mandatory retirement at age 60, and United therefore did not retire him under legal laws. The court ruled that normal means regular or standard, not average, so McMann ending up losing the case and congress continued to regard retirement plans favorably. This argument continues to arise in many airline pilot retirements and the outcome remains the same every time.

Storage Technology Corporation has been involved with similar suits. Two discrimination lawsuits brought against the company four years ago by employees let go in the company s mass layoffs of the mid- 90s. The suits accused StorageTek of targeting older workers and those with actual or potential health problems when it laid off hundreds of workers from April 13, 1993 to December 31, 1996. The suits alleged employees were laid off for reasons such as their age, personal illness or illness of an insured family member. The suits also accused former StorageTek executives of suggesting that employee s lifestyles, including obesity and smoking, would be taken into account in corporate decision-making. StorageTek denied the claims.

StorageTek agreed to settle with a $5 million settlement divided among the 414 members of the class. ERISA, the second suit, did not involve money in its settlement, but StorageTek did agree to revise its policies and training to include non-discrimination on the basis of medical and other benefits. The suit covered 1,266 former employees, including those involved in the age-discrimination suit. As settlement has been reached, the parties will return to court on March 8, 2001 to enter their settlement agreement and close these cases.

KARE 11 TV Station v. Ryther is another example of an age discrimination suit. C. Thomas Ryther was employed at KARE 11 as a sports caster for 12 years until 1991. At 53 years old, KARE refused to renew Ryther s contract and a 33-year-old sports caster replaced him. In 1993, Ryther brings this case to the U.S. district court in Minnesota for age discrimination. Judge David F. Doty instructed the jury that in order to rule for Ryther, he had to prove he was intentionally discriminated against based on age. The jury had to decide if Ryther was protected by the Age Discrimination Act of 1967, which included 3 questions:

1) Was Ryther 40 years of age or older?

2) Was his job performance satisfactory?

3) Did someone younger replace him?

The jury concluded that Ryther was older than 40 and someone younger did replace him. KARE 11 argued that Ryther s dismissal was due to his low ratings based on the market surveys. In 1993, the jury ruled in favor of Ryther and awarded him $717,777. KARE appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court upheld the ruling and increased the award to Ryther in the amount of $1.25 million. KARE 11 tried one last attempt to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and they also upheld the $1.25 million age bias award on June 27, 1997.

Age discrimination is becoming more prevalent in the United States. There are widespread beliefs that productivity, job satisfaction and job performance decreases with an increase in age. But there are positive qualities found in aging employees. Job turnover is lower, fewer unavoidable absences and studies prove that job productivity does not decline. In conclusion, the Age Discrimination Act of 1967 was designed to protect individuals against age bias employers. Unfortunately, it does not stop employers completely from discriminating, but at least there is some comfort for older employed Americans.