The amount that Baltimore County employees pay toward retirement benefits will change under a settlement to resolve claims that the pension system discriminated for years against older workers.
The agreement signed Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett stems from a 9-year-old lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission.
Under the settlement, the county and labor groups that represent county employees will be prohibited from requiring workers 40 and older to contribute at higher rates than younger ones.
Many categories of employees face increases in rates. Some of the changes are to be phased in over three years. The contributions depend on a worker's job classification.
The county and five of the six unions that represent county employees had already reached agreements to "establish flat contribution rates and eliminate age-based rates," according to the court filing.
In announcing the order Wednesday, the EEOC called the development "a partial settlement" of its lawsuit, noting the agreement does not resolve disputes over monetary relief.
"As a result of our lawsuit and this settlement, Baltimore County employees will no longer have to pay higher pension contributions based on age," EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said in a statement. "I hope that the parties can resolve the remaining damages issues quickly so these county workers receive the money damages they are owed."
The litigation dates to 2007, when the EEOC sued the county, alleging the pension system violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Unions that represent county workers are also defendants in the lawsuit because the county must negotiate with them to change pension contributions.
In 2007, the county changed the rate structure for new hires, but people who were hired before that still fell under the old rules.
In 2012, a federal judge found the system was discriminatory because older workers had to pay more toward their retirement than younger workers.
County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said the county "very much appreciates the wisdom of Judge Richard Bennett in approving this settlement — the terms of which were brought to the court by Baltimore County."
"We do not believe any employee was harmed and therefore do not believe any additional monetary relief is warranted," Kobler wrote in an email. "It is always important to remember, when discussing this case, that every single contract in question was arrived at through collective bargaining with all six of our employee bargaining units."
The court order states both the EEOC and the county "desire to resolve the EEOC's claims ... without the time and expense of continued litigation."
The county previously appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which said in 2014 it would not hear it.
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