The BNSF Railway recently paid $800,000 to settle an age discrimination lawsuit brought by the EEOC. The EEOC alleged that BNSF denied older employees certain benefits brought under an exit incentive plan.
According to the EEOC, 137 current and former employees were denied benefits under an exit incentive program, because they were already eligible to retire. The Burlington, Northern and Santa Fe Railroad, or BNSF, offered exit incentives to clerical employees in an effort to reduce staff. However, it illegally failed to offer those same incentives to older employees who became eligible to retire at age 60.
BNSF Railway Company operates one of the largest North American rail networks, with about 32,000 route miles in 28 states and two Canadian provinces.
The exit offer included employees in Kansas City, Fort Worth, and Alliance, Nebraska. However, it excluded any employee old enough to qualify for retirement. Employees may retire from GNSF when they reach the age of 60 with 30 years of service with the company. The employees were eligible for a pension from the federal Railroad Retirement plan.
Under the exit incentive plan, employees who stopped work early received $2,500 per month for three years, or a lump sum of $90,000. However, no employee over the age of 60 was offered the exit incentive.
When the clerical jobs were abolished, many of the workers were “bumped” into lower-paying jobs and retired as a result. The EEOC identified several of the 102 employees who were involved.
Erma Gossage was 63 when she was denied the opportunity to participate in the exit incentive plan offered to younger workers. Because the three years of exit incentive pay qualified as employment, Gossage would have qualified for a higher pension with the plan.
Ellen Foste was a 72-year-old clerical employee who was offered a choice. She could retire, or take a job driving a van at night. Foste had 27 years of employment with the BNSF. If she had been offered the exit incentive, she would have qualified for a full pension under the federal Railroad Retirement plan.
The railroad argued that the exit incentives were designed to motivate employees who were not eligible for a federal Railroad Retirement plan pension to retire early. The amount offered by the company was equivalent to the payments under the Railroad Retirement plan. BNSF also argued that more than 100 people over 60 who were not eligible for retirement were offered exit incentives.
Barbara Seely, Attorney in the St. Louis EEOC District Office, and lead counsel on the case, said, “Under Railroad Retirement Board rules, retirement eligibility is directly tied to age. Denying employees benefits because they are eligible to retire is age discrimination. Employees who are old enough to retire don’t necessarily want to stop working; they are entitled to receive the same benefits as younger workers.”
Donald Munro, lead counsel for BNSF, responded by stating, “BNSF is committed to a discrimination-free workplace and has always maintained that its voluntary early retirement programs do not discriminate in any way on the basis of age. The railroad decided to settle to avoid the substantial cost of further litigation, but in doing so insisted on an express statement that there is no admission of liability.”
BNSF denies any wrongdoing in the matter, and insists that it is simply settling the claim in an effort to avoid a lengthy, expensive lawsuit with the EEOC – the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
This finding underscores the fact that early retirement or exit incentives must be uniformly offered to all employees, regardless of age. Since only older employees are qualified for retirement, by definition, any policy that excludes those qualified for retirement is discrimination under the law.
In Nebraska (NE), job discrimination law in the workplace addresses several issues that may come up in employment. There are actually separate acts or laws, which address such issues as harassment, discrimination and retaliation in employment. The Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission (NEOC) is a neutral administrative agency created by statute in 1965 to enforce the public policy of the state against discrimination. The agency has the authority to receive, investigate, and make decisions on charges of unlawful employment. Ultimately through education and enforcement of such laws the Commission hopes to eliminate unlawful discriminatory practices.
The NEOC regulates Nebraska (NE) Job Discrimination Law in the Workplace by enforcing the Nebraska Fair Employment Act, which deals with employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy), disability, marital status, and retaliation; The Act Prohibiting Unjust Discrimination in Employment Because of Age dealing with employment discrimination on the basis of age for those between the ages of 40-70; and the Equal Pay Act which deals with the issue of discrimination in pay between genders.
The NEOC also has the authority to receive and investigate concurrently with charges filed under the listed state laws, charges alleging violations of certain federal statutes including the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under Nebraska (NE) Job Discrimination Law in the Workplace if you feel you have been discriminated against or you feel you have been retaliated against for taking action or not participating in discriminatory practices you may file a complaint with the NEOC. You have 180 days to file a complaint from the last date the discrimination took place. You may also file with the federal EEOC; the two agencies will work together as long as you request your case be filed with the other as well.
Nebraska sexual discrimination law in the workplace falls under the Nebraska Fair Employment Act and the Nebraska Equal Pay Act. Under the fair employment act, employers are those people who have fifteen or more employees. It includes the State of Nebraska, government agencies and political subdivisions regardless of their number of employees which is the same at the federal Title VII law. The Nebraska Equal Pay Act only applies to those employers who have twenty-five or more employees.
Under the Nebraska Fair Employment Act, employers cannot discriminate employment terms on the basis of sex (including pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions). They also cannot promote or allow sexual harassment when such conduct is a term or condition of employment, when such conduct is used as a determining factor for employment decisions or when such conduct creates a hostile or offensive working environment.
People wishing to make a claim against their employers have 300 days from the date of the alleged violation to contact the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission and file a complaint. However, people filing complaints only dealing with equal pay violations have four years to file.
To file a complaint, you’ll need to contact your regional office and make an appointment with an intake officer who will help you filing a formal charge. The Commission will then work with you and your employer to try to reach an early settlement. If that doesn’t happen, your case will be investigated. From there, the Commission will determine if there is reasonable cause to believe that your rights have been violated. If so, you and your employer will enter another settlement phase. If that fails, your case will be sent to a public hearing.
If you choose to take your case directly to the federal courts, you must first file with the EEOC and request a “Right to Sue” letter. If you want to go with the state courts, in Nebraska you can do so without first filing with the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission.
Employees and employers need to stay informed of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to sexual discrimination in the workplace. One this the employers can do to help with this is to keep a current Nebraska Labor Law Poster available.
The Department of Labor mandates that employers cannot make distinctions based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in recruitment or advertising efforts, employment opportunities, wages, hours, job classifications, seniority, retirement ages, or job fringe benefits such as employer contributions to company pension or insurance plans.
I’ve been researching discrimination laws, and I noticed that the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission is the organization that investigates discrimination complaints. It’s interesting that Nebraska has several different laws that cover employee discrimination. The Fair Employment Practices Act covers employers who have 15 or more employees. The Act Prohibiting Unjust Discrimination in Employment Because of Age covers employers with 25 or more employees.
I noticed that if you’re a non-construction contractor—that would be suppliers and service contractors—and you have 50 or more employees and also satisfy at least one more of the additional criteria, you have to have a written affirmative action program in place. That plan should be used as a management tool to encourage equal employment opportunity.
If you are an employee, you should know that after you’ve filed a discrimination complaint your employer cannot take retaliatory action. Employers can’t fire you or lower your ranking or your pay because of the complaint. The Fair Employment Practices Act also makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against you because you oppose an illegal practice or refuse to carry out an action that is illegal under the laws of the State of Nebraska or the United States.
Complaints are investigated by the Nebraska EOC. Their job is to investigate every complaint in an impartial manner, without any cost to you whatsoever. They are also bound to keep your information confidential. If they believe that the law was violated, the Nebraska EOC will hold a conciliation conference with your employer. If that meeting fails to resolve the problem, they may resort to a public hearing or litigation.