The U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear Baltimore County’s case in a years-long dispute over employee pensions, but the legal conflict is far from being resolved.
The nation’s highest court on Monday denied the county’s petition to review a 2018 appeals court decision that the county must reimburse workers who were found to have overpaid into the pension system. Previously, a federal judge ruled that the county’s pension system violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act because older workers were required to pay more toward their retirement than younger workers.
The case affects workers hired before 2007, when the county ended that practice. Court filings show officials believe the case applies to about 12,000 pension beneficiaries.
Now the matter will head back to federal district court to determine damages. Officials said they don’t know how much those damages could total, though the county previously estimated it could owe about $19 million.
T.J. Smith, a spokesman for County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, said in a statement that declining the petition was unsurprising “given the small number of cases the Supreme Court takes each year.”
Going forward, he said, it will take a “considerable amount of money and personnel to determine the damages.”
The case has made its way through the court system since 2007, when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the county on behalf of two retired corrections officers. The federal agency declined to comment Tuesday.
In September, the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the county had to compensate county workers who overpaid, finding that back pay was mandatory under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. In asking the Supreme Court to review the case, the county contended that the ruling conflicted with previous decisions on back pay in pension cases.
The county also argued that calculating how much is owed to retirees will cause “havoc” for pension plan administrators.
In its petition to the Supreme Court, filed in December, county lawyers said doing so would “involve the complex review of the files of and individualized actuarial calculations” for about 12,000 pension beneficiaries.
This was the second time the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. It also did so in 2014, after the county appealed the federal ruling that found the pension system was discriminatory.