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July 20, 2001

EEOC/Vines' lawsuit against ULM dismissed by federal court

In a decision released on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert G. James dismissed a lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the University of Louisiana at Monroe and the Board of Supervisors of the University of Louisiana System. The EEOC's lawsuit was filed on behalf of former ULM President Dwight Vines, former Dean of ULM's College of Business Administration Van McGraw, and three other retired ULM faculty who had been re-employed by the University as retirees.

The EEOC's lawsuit challenged a University of Louisiana System policy prohibiting the re-employment of state retirees except under certain limited conditions and a Louisiana law that limited the earnings of re-employed state retirees who elected to continue receiving their retirement benefits during their re-employment. The EEOC charged that both the policy and the earnings limitation violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination against employees who are age 40 or more.

The policy was implemented by the Board in 1996 to curtail the practice of "double- dipping" by some University employees who retired for the purpose of being re-employed so they could continue collecting a salary along with their state retirement benefits. In some cases, the practice resulted in the retirees increasing their state-paid income by 50 percent or more. Both Vines and McGraw were re-employed in teaching positions immediately after retiring as President and Dean respectively. Their appointments were not renewed after the Board adopted its policy.

In his Ruling, Judge James disagreed with the EEOC, finding that neither the Board's policy nor the compensation practices of the University violated the law. Although the Court found that most, if not all, of the retirees affected by the Board's policy and the earnings limitation were over 40, they were affected because of their status as state retirees, not because of their age. For this reason, the Court ruled that the EEOC could not establish that Vines and McGraw had been discriminated against because of their age.

Although the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which covers Louisiana, has not ruled on a case involving the same facts and legal issues, "Judge James' decision is solidly in line with the rulings of courts in other parts of the country as well as the U.S. Supreme Court," said ULM attorney, H. Mark Adams of the Jones Walker law firm in New Orleans. "We have always believed the EEOC's case was unfounded and without any legal basis, and we are gratified that the court agreed with our position. We are confident this decision will be upheld by the Fifth Circuit if the EEOC decides to appeal." said Adams.

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