An age discrimination lawsuit against the Equitable Life Assurance
Society ended when a U.S. district judge approved a settlement worked
out between the company and 363 former employees. The Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had also joined the plaintiffs in charging
that Equitable had violated Federal age discrimination rules in 1978,
when it fired the plaintiffs. At the time, Equitable had indicated that
the firings were simply part of a plan to cut costs. This was contested
by the plaintiffs–many of whom were more than 40 years old–who claimed
that they were terminated to open promotions to younger employees. In
describing the settlement, the EEOC asserted that Equitable had timed
the firings to precede the January 1, 1979, effective date of an
amendment to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act that extended
protection to persons between age 40 and 70.
An Equitable official said that the EEOC assertions were
“absolutely untrue” and that the settlement did not contain
any findings of illegal conduct by the company. Continuing, the
official said that Equitable “has always denied and continues to
deny that it violated the law” and that it had settled only to
avoid prolonged and costly court proceedings.
Under the settlement, $12.5 million–reportedly a record among for
a discrimination case–will be distributed to the plaintiffs according
to the financial losses they sustained. In exchange, they agreed to
drop their claims against the company.