FBI sued over alleged age discrimination

Thursday - 12/30/2010, 10:56am EST

Debra Roth, partner, Shaw, Bransford & Roth

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

Forty-five current and retired FBI agents sued the Bureau for alleged age discrimination.

The lawsuit, filed this month in D.C. federal court, claims an FBI policy that limits the term limit of field office squad supervisors to five years is aimed at removing supervisors over 40 years old.

After five years, these supervisors had three choices: Move to another field office, downgrade to a non-supervisory GS-13 position or retire.

"There was a real financial harm to them based upon this employment practice," said Debra Roth, partner at the law firm, Shaw, Bransford & Roth, in an interview with the Federal Drive.

Roth added that a downgrade would also lower an employee's retirement benefits, based on the last three years' salary. An agent who went from a GS-14 to a GS-13 took an average $15,000 pay cut, she said.

The FBI has 278 squad supervisors across the country and all were over 40 when the policy was implemented in June 2004, Roth said. The lawsuit alleged everyone who replaced the supervisors after five years were under the age of 40.

"The intent was to bring in younger, more aggressive agents, and it was a stereotype on age," Roth said of the plaintiff's argument.

Courthouse News Service reports that the plaintiffs are asking for their pay grade status to be restored, unspecified damages, and an injunction that prevents the FBI from retaliating against them.

Roth said age can be taken into consideration for a "legitimate business reason." For example, the mandatory retirement age at the FBI is 57. However, the plaintiffs are alleging the policy was "a means of getting the older workers out."