(CN) – The 1st Circuit upheld the forced retirement of more than two dozen police officers in Puerto Rico, who claimed the government had agreed “to get rid … of a group of old timers” by lowering the mandatory retirement age from 65 to 55.
In August 2003, legislators in Puerto Rico passed a law lowering the mandatory retirement age to 55 for police officers and firefighters with 30 years of service.
Four days after the bill passed, the superintendent of the Puerto Rico Police Department sent letters giving officers 55 years or older 30 days to complete the necessary documents for retirement.
They sued Puerto Rico, its police department and various officials, claiming their forced retirements violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the U.S. Constitution. They alleged due-process violations, saying they were denied fair hearings or the chance to prove their abilities through fitness testing.
The district court dismissed their case, and the Boston-based federal appeals court affirmed.
Under the ADEA, private and government employers can’t base employment decisions on age, unless they can show that age is a bona fide qualification for the job.
In 1986, and again in 1996, Congress made an exception for local law enforcement officers and firefighters, known as the “safe-harbor” provision. This allowed state and local governments to reinstate age restrictions that had previously been outlawed as discriminatory.
The plaintiffs can’t claim the safe-harbor provision is a “subterfuge” for age-based discrimination, the court ruled, “because the exemption’s purpose is to allow the termination of police officers and firefighters on the basis of age.”
The court upheld the forced retirements and dismissed the case.