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Lawsuit: TSA reorganized to weed out older, more costly employees

A federal judge has ruled in favor of a class of Transportation Security Administration agents and air marshals who claim a cost-saving reorganization plan was a pretext for age discrimination. The agency closed field offices in San Diego, Phoenix, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Tampa, then allegedly made it "extremely difficult, expensive, unpalatable, and problematic" for older employees to transfer to new jobs, the lead plaintiff says.

The lead plaintiff claims that of the approximately 300 air marshals in the offices slated for closure, at least 90 percent were over the age of 40. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits job discrimination against anyone over 40. The reason older workers are often targeted is that their years of service have increased their salaries over time.

According to the lawsuit, a "purge" of older workers would allow the TSA to "hire two young field air marshals for every older field air marshal."

The lead plaintiff adds, "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."

The federal judge ruled that the plaintiffs had made a good initial case that "the Service's preferred reasons for the closure decisions were pretext for age discrimination."

Disparate impact claim will not move forward

Because the judge found that the class of plaintiffs had a valid complaint, the lawsuit will move forward. The day was not without its victory for the TSA, however.

The lawsuit had also attempted to make an argument called a "disparate impact" claim. That is an attempt to show statistically that an otherwise valid, non-discriminatory policy has an unintended discriminatory effect. In this case, the judge found that the plaintiffs' statistical analysis was insufficient to show a disparate impact.

The judge gave the plaintiffs two weeks to amend their complaint to remove the disparate impact claim and to revise it to seek only remedies that are appropriate in straightfoward age discrimination cases.

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