An ongoing federal lawsuit is challenging a college’s decision to do away with an early retirement program. The court recently issued a ruling.
A college offered a program that permitted faculty members over age 55 to decrease their workload and salary by half while still receiving full-time benefits.
Faculty members who opted in were able to maintain the reduced workload with full benefits for the duration of their employment. After several faculty members elected to participate in the program, the college discontinued it.
As a result, participants had to either retire or take a new position that required twice as much work. Some took new positions, and others retired.
A group of participants sued the college. They alleged age discrimination and disability discrimination. And they asserted violation of the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) and a state human relations act. A court rejected the OWBPA allegation and the state-law allegation as to one defendant. It then addressed a defense motion to dismiss the remaining allegations.
First, the court declined to dismiss the age discrimination allegations. The plaintiffs alleged that administrators made discriminatory comments about older faculty members. Those alleged comments were sufficient circumstantial evidence showing a causal nexus between the participants’ ages and the decision to shut down the program.
Did the school subject participants to an adverse employment action? The court said a forced double workload can be a constructive discharge.
The court said there wasn’t enough evidence to show the decision to end the program was related to a participant’s disability. The college president allegedly made a disability-related comment about the participant. But the comment was six years before the school ended the program.
Finally, the court dismissed a state-law aiding and abetting allegation.
The court granted the motion in part and denied it in part.
Bartell v. Community College of Philadelphia, No. 2:19-cv-6056, 2022 WL 561493 (E.D. Pa. 2/24/22).