Judges usually hear lawsuits, not file them. But a number of judges in New York State are so angry that they’ve resorted to the courts to resolve a gross unfairness–something many older workers across the country have faced.
“It feels very strange,” Justice Ellen Gesmer, 70, who handles appeals in Manhattan and the Bronx, told the New York Times. “I have never personally sued anyone before.”
The judges are suing the administrative body of the New York judiciary system, which fired the oldest jurists in the system to meet emergency budget cut requirements. In their legal filing, the judges charged age discrimination, calling the action “arbitrary and capricious” and a “total disregard” for how citizens of the state would be impacted.
These cuts mean the court system is losing an enormous number of their most experienced judges, the New York Times reported, at a time when the system is already struggling with backlogs created by the pandemic.
The Gut Punch and The Lawsuit
“I understand the budget issues,” Justice Sheri S. Roman, a 35-year veteran of the bench, told the Times, explaining why she felt this move was age discrimination. “But once you lop off all the senior judges, it’s hard to view it otherwise.”
Judges who weren’t ready to retire were blindsided by the news. “The wind came out of me,” said Justice Gesmer.
The move has been criticized by lawmakers, one likening it to a “purge,” and by legal organizations, such as the state chapters of Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.
In New York, the retirement age for judges is 70, but judges are able to request extensions up until age 76. Before this year, those extensions were typically approved without any issue. Now, many of those who are leaving the bench had years of productivity ahead of them.
“They decided to terminate the most experienced judges in the state and have already signaled their intention to replace those judges with younger and less experienced judges, some of whom have never been elected by the voters of this state,” the complaint states. The suit doesn’t say that these younger judges would be less expensive, but we can assume that is part of the motivation.
Getting pushed out for younger (cheaper) employees is something many older workers face these days, with little effective recourse. But maybe these plaintiffs, who know their way around the court system, will help bring more attention to the problem. It seems only just.