Does the "Leave Donation Program" of Independence, Missouri, violate the ADEA as seen in EEOC v. City of Independence, Missouri?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rightly reversed the Independence, Missouri, district court's decision that the city's "Leave Donation Program" does not violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) upheld by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), ruling instead that the policy certainly does violate the ADEA. The city's policy states that any employee may donate paid leave time, such as "vacation, personal, or sick leave" to any fellow employee who has a "medical condition" that prevents that employee from working but has already used up all his/her own paid leave time (Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, "Although Leave Donation's Program's Qualifications Preclude"). However, under the policy, those who qualify for retirement are exempt from being able to receive paid leave time through the program. While the policy itself says nothing about age, the city's personnel policy states that normal retirement age is 60 under the LAGERS system (Independence, Missouri, "Employee Benefits"). Hence, when Code Compliance Officer Richard Hopkins began being given donated leave from fellow employees due to his battle with cancer, the city's human resources administrator denied him the donations from the program, saying, "I didn't know you were that old ... you're of retirement age, Richard, you're over 60. You can't draw donated leave time," resulting in Hopkin's decision to sue the city for violation of the ADEA.

As justified by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, Hopkins certainly had every right to sue the city, and the city certainly had violated the ADEA. The ADEA clearly prevents employment decisions to be based off of age discrimination for those of the age 40 and older, including decisions concerning fringe benefits, which is what the "Leave Donation Program" would fall under. As pointed out by Parker Poe Attorneys & Counselors at Law, the Eighth Circuit rightly concluded that Independence's policy did violate the ADEA because "evidence introduced by the plaintiffs made clear that eligibility for the leave donation program was expressly conditioned upon the employee's age." The Eighth Circuit, further concluded, "This was not a situation where there was only a correlation between age and eligibility. Once the employee turned 60, he was automatically ineligible" (EmployNews, "Leave Donation Program May Have Violated ADEA").

Hence, it can be said that the "Leave Donation Program" certainly did violate the ADEA upheld by the EEOC.

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