Court upholds age discrimination

By David Kravets The Associated Press By David Kravets, The Associated Press
Wednesday June 26, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Older workers are not necessarily entitled to the same benefits as younger workers, according to a California Supreme Court ruling. 

The court already has said age-bias laws protect older workers from being discriminated against when it comes to hiring and firing, or from being demoted or suspended. 

But the court found that age is exempted when it comes to what benefits employees are due, and said employers may grant younger employees better benefits than their senior counterparts. California age laws group those under or over 40. 

The case concerns Dan Esberg, a former Union Oil Co. telecommunications specialist who sued after his employer refused to pay his master’s program tuition. Union Oil has reorganized and Esberg, now 64, no longer works for the company’s Anaheim office. 

The high court noted that age is among a dozen factors, including race, religion, sexual orientation and gender, which employers cannot use when hiring and firing workers. The law, however, includes all those factors but age when it comes to the “terms and conditions” of employment. 

State law, Justice Joyce L. Kennard wrote, “does not prohibit employment discrimination in the furnishing of employee benefits on the basis of age.” 

California lawmakers, meanwhile, are considering legislation that would add age to the list of other protected factors regarding employee benefits. Chino Assemblywoman Gloria Negrete McLeod’s bill cleared the lower chamber Jan. 28 and is before a Senate committee.