Law Firm Partner Forced to Retire Not Protected by Age Bias Law

Dec. 3, 2019, 7:24 PM

Armstrong Teasdale LLP’s mandatory partner retirement policy doesn’t violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act because partners aren’t covered employees, the Eighth Circuit said Dec. 3, deciding a matter of first impression.

Looking to how the term has been interpreted by other courts, under the ADEA and other federal anti-discrimination laws, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit said equity partner Joseph S. von Kaenel wasn’t a firm “employee” when he was forced to retire at age 70.

In particular, the appeals court looked to a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a disability bias suit, which established a six-factor test for determining who is an employee. Those factors included whether the organization can fire the individual and set rules for the individual’s work, how much the organization supervises the work, and whether the individual shares in the organization’s profits.

Guided by those factors, the Eighth Circuit concluded von Kaenel isn’t covered by the ADEA and affirmed judgment for Armstrong Teasdale.

For example, his compensation scheme included sharing in the law firm’s profits and losses, the Eighth Circuit said.

Additionally, he had the right to vote on changes to the firm’s policies and admission of new partners, his substantive work wasn’t reviewed, a request to lower his hourly rate for a client was approved, and he could be expelled from the firm only by vote of the other partners or by the retirement policy, the court said.

Judge Ralph R. Erickson wrote the opinion, joined by Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith and Senior Judge C. Arlen Beam.

Dobson & Goldberg represented von Kaenel. Lewis & Rice represented Armstrong Teasdale.

The case is Von Kaenel v. Armstrong Teasdale, LLP, 8th Cir., No. 18-2850, 12/3/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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