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Lifeguard, 61, Wins Fight Against Retirement Rule

June 02, 1985

County Lifeguard Lt. Tom Zahn can work at his job until age 70, as long as he can pass the annual physical examinations.

Zahn was forced to retire from his job as skipper of the Bay Watch-Santa Monica rescue boat last May, when he reached age 60. Citing a 1983 Supreme Court decision that state and local governments generally cannot force workers to retire before age 70, a lawsuit was filed on Zahn's behalf by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Last September, Zahn, who had passed his physical with flying colors, was reinstated under a temporary court order.

Week before last, U.S. District Judge Laughlin Waters issued a permanent injunction against the County of Los Angeles finding that its mandatory retirement policy violates the Fair Employment Act. This enables Zahn to work until age 70, provided he can pass the annual physical required for all lifeguards past age 50. Younger lifeguards get physicals every three years.

Attorney Robert Olmos of the equal employment commission said the injunction also applies to district attorney's investigators. For purposes of the judgment, Zahn's case was consolidated with that of Claud Hawkins, who was forced to retire last summer at age 60 from his job as an investigator with the district attorney's office.

Olmos said the decision could affect mandatory retirement age requirements for county and city law enforcement officers because Waters' injunction covers all positions labeled as "safety members."

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department dropped its maximum age requirement of 35 years for people entering the department in response to a lawsuit filed by the commission in January, 1984, Olmos said. The Los Angeles Police Department voluntarily dropped its mandatory retirement age, Olmos said.

Olmos said another suit against the county, challenging its mandatory retirement age for firefighters, is still pending in federal court. A Fire Department spokesman said that at the present time firefighters must retire at age 65. This lawsuit may be affected by a pending decision on a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Johnson versus the City of Baltimore, challenging that city's mandatory retirement age of 55 for firefighters.

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