Older Judges Forced from NY Bench Sue for Age Discrimination

NEW YORK (AP) -
Exterior view of the New York Court of Appeals in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

A group of New York judges is suing for age discrimination after the state’s cash-strapped court system cracked down on a long-standing practice that had allowed them to continue serving past the mandatory retirement age of 70.

The New York Times reported Monday that nine older judges are involved in two lawsuits stemming from the court system’s decision to reject the applications of 46 of 49 judges who have sought to continue to working in their 70s. They must leave by Dec. 31.

The lawsuits name as defendants the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore, and an administrative board that approved the move.

Court rules allow judges who reach age 70 to apply for two-year extensions to remain on the bench until they are 76, as long as they receive necessary medical clearance. There is no requirement that the court system approve the applications, but the judges who are suing allege they were decided on en masse instead of individually, as rules require.

Because of revenue shortfalls related to the pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked the state judiciary to slash its budget by $300 million. By rejecting the applications of all but three judges who have specialized assignments, the court system will save $55 million over two years, a spokesperson said.

State trial judges earn about $210,000 and appellate judges about $222,000, the Times reported. If all 49 older judges who applied were retained, the courts would have been required to lay off more than 300 other staff members, such as court officers and clerks, courts spokesperson Lucian Chalfen told the Times.

Some lawmakers are concerned the forced retirements will leave courthouses undermanned. The Times reports that eight judges are set to depart in the Bronx, while six judges each are leaving courts in Queens and Manhattan.

Some judges say that with pension payments they’re due to receive in retirement nearly matching their salaries, the decision doesn’t make as much fiscal sense as the court system says it does. One older judge, who wasn’t part of the lawsuits, offered to keep working for free.