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Mandatory retirement for pilots is not age discrimination: the case of ExxonMobil

by on August 4, 2014

It looks like the end of a long running legal dispute in the US (but with wider implications across the global airline industry) relating to age-based mandatory retirement for corporate pilots.

AIN Online report here that proceedings between ExxonMobil and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have concluded with a ruling by the US Court of Appeals. The Court has upheld the previous ruling that Exxon’s policy on mandatory retirement for its corporate pilots at age 60 (later revised to 65) does not violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Exxon was successfully able to show that its retirement requirement is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ), reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the particular business. Consequently the claims for age discrimination brought by two pilots against Exxon, on the grounds of this mandatory retirement, have failed.

Interestingly, ExxonMobil had based its policy on the Age 60 Rule of the Federal Aviation Administration, a rule which has been in effect since 1959. At the time the rule was adopted, the FAA stated, “There is a progressive deterioration of certain important physiological and psychological functions with age…significant medical defects attributable to this degenerative process occur at an increasing rate as age increases, and…sudden incapacity due to such medical defects becomes significantly more frequent in any group reaching age 60.”

There’s obviously been substantial research on the ageing process since 1959 including on the degree of variation in ageing between individuals. However, in this case ExxonMobil successfully argued that it had to adopt the mandatory retirement policy becuase it showed that the risk of sudden incapacitation does increase with age and because of the absence of an adequate means of testing each pilot individually.

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