New York Appellate Judges Sue Over Forced Retirements

In September, the Office of Court Administration’s (OCA) administrative board declined to recertify 46 judges older than 70 in a bid to cut the judiciary budget by 10 percent. The move was in response to New York State’s COVID-19-induced budget deficit. Now, five appellate judges slated to lose their jobs on Dec. 31 have filed a lawsuit against the OCA, charging the board with “blatant age discrimination.”

The suit, filed in November, highlights the increasing claims of age discrimination in the state and across the nation. These claims are difficult to prove, however, which makes it crucial to work with an experienced employment law attorney if you have been fired because of your age.

Unified Court System Rules Under Scrutiny

Under state rules, New York Supreme Court justices must apply for recertification and undergo cognitive exams every two years after turning 70 until reaching the mandatory retirement age of 76. Recertification is typically routine, as long as they are fit and their services are necessary to carry out the court’s business. The lawsuit claims that the board’s move was “arbitrary and capricious.” 

According to the complaint, the Administrative Board is engaging in age-based discrimination by systematically cutting only judges over 70. The plaintiffs say they are being deprived of their ability to serve on the court without due process. Finally, the complaint argues that the court system is replacing forcibly retired justices by promoting lower civil court judges to acting Supreme Court justices, thereby depriving people of their right to elect judges.

“They decided to terminate the most experienced judges in the state and have already signaled their intention to replace those judges with younger and less experienced judges, some of whom have never been elected by the voters of this state,” the complaint states.

Ultimately, the plaintiffs argue that the decision to deny their recertifications will hinder the court system and harm the administration of justice for citizens of the state. 

The Unified Court System said in a statement, “While we will be responding accordingly in court, it is unfortunate that the idea of shared sacrifice is too much to be considered even in this seminal moment that we all are living through.”

The Takeaway

At this juncture, it remains to be seen whether the five appellate justices will prevail in their age discrimination claim against the OCA. Moreover, other forcibly retired Supreme Court justices are said to be mulling their options. In October, the Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of New York contacted them about joining an Article 78 lawsuit against the Administrative Board. 

In any event, this case reveals that no workplace is immune to age discrimination.  If you have been discriminated against based on your age, turn to Lipsky Lowe LLP. We will be the strength in your corner and fight to protect your employment rights.