Sea union, affiliated school settle age bias case

They are to pay $625,000 to 30-40 would-be trainees


The Seafarers International Union and an affiliated school have agreed to pay $625,000 to settle an age discrimination suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC announced yesterday.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Paul Hall Center and the union agreed to pay the money to 30 to 40 people who allegedly were barred from an apprenticeship program because of their age, the EEOC said.

The EEOC alleged in the lawsuit that the Paul Hall Center and the union would not let candidates age 40 or older into the program. The apprenticeship program trains people who want to join the merchant marine and guarantees them a job on a union ship upon graduation.

The Seafarers International Union, based in Camp Springs, has 80,000 members, mostly merchant mariners, and is affiliated with the Paul Hall Center in Piney Point.

"We settled to avoid mounting litigation costs which threatened to interfere with the school's main mission of providing top-notch training for U.S. mariners," the union and the center said in a statement. "We have never admitted liability. We also believe it's worth noting that people over the age of 40 have been admitted to the school during the past several years."

An attorney for the union could not be reached for further comment.

The center and the union also have agreed that there would be no upper age limit for the apprenticeship program, that those in charge of the course would be given training on discrimination laws and that they would take other measures to prevent discrimination, the EEOC said.

The lawsuit was filed in 2002 in federal District Court in Maryland. When the union and the school argued that EEOC's regulations did not apply to the apprenticeship program, the case was appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that the training program was subject to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the EEOC said.

In the lawsuit, the EEOC alleged that people 40 and older who applied for the apprenticeship were sent letters saying that they must be 18 to 25 years old to apply.

Maria Salacuse, senior trial attorney in the case for the EEOC's Baltimore district office, said the commission was pleased that the union and the school lifted the age restriction on admission to the apprenticeship program.

"There was a belief that perhaps people over the age of 40 weren't physically fit enough for the program," Salacuse said, "and the fact that they've admitted people and they've been successful in the program shows that their stereotype is without merit."

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