In Wake of Settlement, State Bar Says Old Age Should be Overlooked
NEW YORK — New York State Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle says that he was heartened by the settlement agreement by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a New York City law firm over an age discrimination complaint.
"Arbitrarily requiring a senior attorney to retire or assume a lesser status in a law firm solely because of age is not an acceptable policy," Doyle said. "The retirement policies of law firms should be governed by flexibility and consideration of the needs of the firm and the individual partner.”
He noted that the State Bar adopted such a recommendation five years ago.
In March 2007, the association's House of Delegates — by a unanimous vote — urged law firms to discontinue age-related retirement policies. That August, at the initiative of the State Bar, the American Bar Association (ABA) approved a similar resolution.
The catalyst for the recommendation was the report of the Special Committee on Age Discrimination in the Profession, which was appointed by then-State Bar President Mark Alcott of Manhattan.
"Mandatory age-related retirement is inconsistent with accepted employment practices in this country" and is "against the best interests of law firms, clients and the profession," the report concluded. "Modern experience demonstrates that this practice is both unwarranted and unwise. A lawyer's age, standing alone, is not an appropriate criterion for determining professional capacity or employment status. A blanket policy of mandatory retirement of law partners is, at best, shortsighted. It shortchanges not only the individual lawyer but the firm and society as a whole.”
A number of law firms have ended their mandatory age-based retirement policies since the State Bar and the ABA condemned such policies.
Last week, the EEOC and Kelley Drye & Warren reached a settlement in a 2010 complaint involving a partner of the firm who was forced to give up his equity status at age 70. The firm amended its policy shortly after the complaint was filed.
As part of the settlement, the firm was permanently enjoined from forcing a partner to retire or otherwise take a reduced status because of age.
In New York, a mandatory retirement age remains in effect for judges.