A provision in an electrical workers union contract giving preferences to older journeymen workers, while not in conflict with federal age discrimination laws, violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), which bars any discrimination "based on age," according to the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Eighth Circuit.
In September 2002, Ace Electrical Contractors Inc., Minneapolis, terminated two journeyman wiremen as part of a planned reduction in force. Both workers were over age 50. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 292, filed a grievance, claiming the terminations violated the union contracts protections for older workers. The contract provided that: "In all shops employing four or more employees, every fifth journeyman wireman, if available, shall be fifty years of age or older. Referrals and layoffs for reduction-in-force shall conform to this age ratio."
The Council on Industrial Relations of the Electrical Contracting Industry, upheld the grievance, finding the layoff of the two older workers meant that Ace was no longer in compliance with the age-ratio provision. It ordered the two workers be given back pay and benefits. Ace appealed and a federal district court ruled that the contract clause and the council ruling violated MHRA. Local 292 appealed to the federal court of appeals.
The union argued that MHRA should be interpreted similarly to the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which bars discrimination against workers over age 40 but permits "granting more favorable benefits to older workers." The appeals court rejected this argument. MHRA bars using "a persons age as the basis for a decision" in any case, unlike ADEA, which is designed to protect only older workers. Thus, any employment decision that uses age as the determining factor, including the age preference in IBEW contract, violates MHRA and is invalid, the court ruled, reversing the councils grievance ruling.
Ace Electrical Contractors Inc. v IBEW, Local Union No. 292, No. 04-1505 (USCA 8th Cir. 2005).