SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge partially upheld claims from a group of agents with the Transportation Security Administration who say they were transferred based on their ages.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar found Friday that the agents had sufficiently argued the TSA used a reorganization and cost-saving plan as cover to weed out some of the agency’s older employees.
The class action, filed in June 2015, claims the TSA specifically targeted older marshals when it closed a number of field offices in cities such as Cleveland, Tampa, San Diego, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Phoenix.
“Plaintiffs have raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Service’s preferred reasons for the closure decisions were pretext for age discrimination,” Tigar’s 18-page opinion states.
While the ruling is a victory for the TSA agents, many of whom resigned rather than take new assignments that would have uprooted their families, Tigar also handed the TSA a win when he found the agents’ disparate impact claim would not move forward.
To prove disparate impact, the plaintiff must show an outwardly normal or neutral employment policy and then show how a given company has taken action that could have a significantly detrimental impact on people of a certain age category.
“The statistical analysis offered by the plaintiffs’ expert, which reveals an age difference between plaintiffs and their comparators of less than three years, does not show a significantly adverse or disproportionate impact on persons of a particular age,” Tigar wrote.
The lead plaintiff, who sued under his initials K.H. due to concerns about national security, claims at least 90 percent of air marshals in the targeted offices are older than 40. Those marshals have been reassigned.
“It is the TSA’s intent to force older workers from federal service and it is the TSA’s desire that the older workers will in fact quit due to the closure of the field offices and the mandatory office reassignment,” K.H. claims.
He says the TSA wants to “purge” its workforce of older air marshals so it can “hire two young field air marshals for every older field air marshal,” according to the complaint. The move could affect approximately 300 older air marshals.
In addition, he says, “The TSA is making any potential move to other offices extremely difficult, expensive, unpalatable, and problematic.”
K.H. says he suffered severe stress about uprooting his family from Florida and moving to California when the TSA decided to close the Tampa office, where he had worked.
He says he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which failed to act within 180 days.
Tigar gave the plaintiffs 14 days to amend and submit a new complaint that includes only remedies appropriate to age-discrimination cases.
The agents are represented by Nicholas Wieczorek with Morris, Polich & Purdy in Las Vegas.