Mandatory retirement, or enforced retirement, is the age at which people are required by industry standards or by law to retire from employment. There may be valid reasons for such a requirement—specifically in jobs that involve physical labor or physical hazards. However, in other professions, mandatory retirement is viewed unfavorably, and can even be perceived to be a form of age discrimination.
Under federal employment law, mandatory retirement is generally prohibited, as stated in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations commenting on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which states: “…one of the original purposes of this provision, namely, that the exception does not authorize an employee to require or permit involuntary retirement of an employee within the protected age group on account of age, …an employer can no longer force retirement or otherwise discriminate on the basis of age against an individual because (s)he is 70 or older.”
Despite the federal law against mandatory retirement, it is unclear whether this requirement applies to partners at law firms and accounting firms. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is currently investigating the mandatory retirement policy at Deloitte, a firm specializing in accounting and financial services. At Deloitte, the mandatory retirement age for partners is 62, and the American Institute of CPAs is trying to dissuade the EEOC from filing a lawsuit. The issue is whether partners are employees to whom the age discrimination law applies. The nature of the investigation suggests that there could be implications for law firms that still enforce mandatory retirement ages for their partners. Nearly half of the largest law firms still have such policies in place.
It has been said that the EEOC will likely consider partners at large law firms to be employees because they have little or no influence on the way in which the firm is managed. These firms are very different from small law firms with just a few members. Therefore, firms that enforce mandatory retirement policies could be held liable for age discrimination. However, there is no precedent in place because the previous EEOC claims filed against two law firms alleging mandatory retirement resulted in settlements.
I think it would be best for all concerned if firms were to do away with mandatory retirement because partners can be productive, and contribute, even at an advanced age. They are likely to have a large book of business, and to be very knowledgeable and experienced; firms can only benefit from their vast knowledge. Furthermore, firms could avoid anymore EEOC probes or potential claims of age discrimination stemming from mandatory retirement.