Quickie: Too Old for Foreign Service Work?

Steve Vogel in today’s issue of TWP (October 2, 2009) writes about Dr. Elizabeth Colton’s age discrimination lawsuit against Secretary Clinton in her capacity as Secretary of State.

The article mentions the Government Accounting Office report warning that the State Department is understaffed at many hardship posts. Susan Hutha, a lawyer also representing Colton who is with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs is quoted as saying “There’s the irony that top-qualified people are unable to serve at the same time the State Department is in the horrible situation of being understaffed.”

Vogel’s piece also quotes Susan R. Johnson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, which represents 23,000 active and retired Foreign Service employees, primarily from State and the Agency for International Development, who said the restriction is unrealistic.

“AFSA thinks that there are a number of sound reasons to consider raising the age of mandatory Foreign Service retirement beyond 65, including but not limited to the expertise many older employees possess that is badly needed, and a general trend towards entry into the Foreign Service somewhat later in life,” Johnson said. “It’s important to note that only career Foreign Service officers are affected by the mandatory retirement age — not political ambassadorial appointees. Why is this?” Johnson added.

I should note that the American Foreign Service Association filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the State Department’s position of mandatory retirement in Bradley v. Vance in 1979. I have been unable to locate a copy of that brief except in a notation in the case files that says “*Catherine Waelder filed a brief for the American Foreign Service Assn. as amicus curiae urging reversal.” The brief was filed during the appeal in the Supreme Court of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s decision. At that time, court record states that “an average of 44 employees per year has been mandatorily retired.”

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance of the lower court decision were also filed by Alfred Miller for the American Association of Retired Persons; by William J. Mahannah and L. M. Pellerzi for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFL-CIO); by Claude Pepper, pro se, and Edward F. Howard for Claude Pepper et al.; and by Howard Eglit, Mark Shenfield, and David Marlin for the National Council of Senior Citizens.

In any case, that was 30 years ago. I am curious if this signals AFSA’s new position on mandatory retirement in the Foreign Service.

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