Mandatory Retirement Ages Permissible For Police Officers

Ronald Breitigan was a police officer working for New Castle County, Delaware. When Breitigan was forced to retire by a mandatory retirement age in the County’s pension system, he challenged his termination under the Age Discrimination In Employment Act (ADEA).

A federal appeals court upheld Breitigan’s termination. The Court noted that while the ADEA generally prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, “governmental employers may adopt and enforce a mandatory retirement age for law enforcement officers and firefighters if certain requirements are met.” In particular, the Court cited language in the ADEA that “it shall not be unlawful for a state or local government to discharge any individual law enforcement officer or firefighter because of such individual’s age if such action is taken pursuant to a bona fide hiring or retirement plan that is not a subterfuge to evade the purposes of this chapter.”

While the ADEA itself does not define what a “bona fide retirement system” is, the Court concluded that a retirement system is bona fide if it (1) is untainted by bad faith, fraud, or deceit, and (2) exists and pays benefits.”

The Court found that the jury which rejected Breitigan’s claims had been properly instructed by the Court on the meaning of “bad faith, fraud and deceit.” Since the County’s retirement system did “exist and pay benefits,” the Court upheld Breitigan’s termination.

Breitigan v. Delaware, 2008 WL 4335948 (3d Cir. 2008).

This article appears in the January 2009 issue