Baltimore County has asked a judge to suspend proceedings in an age-discrimination case, saying in federal court filings that determining damages owed to employees and retirees could be a "lengthy, costly and complex" process that requires the review of 10,000 pension files.
County officials think it could take at least two years to determine how much people are owed in the case, according to the court documents. U.S. District Judge Benson Everett Legg ruled last month that the county's pension system discriminates because older workers had to pay more toward their retirement than younger workers.
The county denies wrongdoing and has filed a motion asking the district court's permission to appeal the recent decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the county in 2007, alleging that the pension system violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
"We think that there's time and expense to be spared if we get the ... Fourth Circuit to look" at the case, County Attorney Mike Field said Tuesday.
County officials have said Legg's decision could mean increased pension contributions for thousands of workers.
"The county believes that [the court's decision] is erroneous as a matter of law and may ultimately work an extreme injustice and impose an extreme financial burden on the Employees' Retirement System and its thousands of members," the county's lawyers contend in the recent court filings.
The county estimated five years ago that damages could total $17 million to $19 million, according to the legal documents. The county has not released an updated projection.
Lawyers for the EEOC contend that calculating damages would not be as time-consuming as the county says, pointing to information the county has already produced during the litigation.
"The EEOC concedes that the calculation of relief is likely to be more complex than in typical discrimination cases and will require expert actuarial services," the agency's lawyers wrote in response to the county's motions. "However, there is no reason to believe that the relief phase would be lengthy, require the review of thousands of paper documents, or be unduly costly."
The legal papers show the county does not want to pursue mediation to work out potential damages, a step the EEOC wants to take.
Labor unions representing county workers also were named as defendants by the EEOC because the unions must negotiate with the county to make changes to the pension system. Attorneys for the groups oppose the county's attempt to delay proceedings, writing in court documents that "the litigation should proceed to address the matter of remedy expeditiously, fairly and definitely."
The county changed its pension system in 2007 so that members contribute at a flat rate not based on their age. About 9,000 employees and 6,000 retirees belong to the $2 billion system.
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