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AT&T in talks to settle EEOC age bias lawsuit

NEW YORK (Reuters) - AT&T Inc is in talks to settle a lawsuit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that accuses the largest U.S. phone company of discriminating nationwide against workers over 40.

According to a joint filing by AT&T and the EEOC in Manhattan federal court, the EEOC has proposed a settlement of the nearly year-old lawsuit, and both sides held "substantive settlement discussions" in a June 30 mediation session. Another session is set for August 10.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan on Thursday agreed to delay further proceedings in the lawsuit until September 6 while the parties "work toward resolution" of the case.

The EEOC accused AT&T in an August 20, 2009 lawsuit of having without any "legitimate" reason deprived thousands of retirees who had left the company of the ability to reapply for jobs.

It said the policy covered in excess of 50,000 workers subject to AT&T's Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program and Enhanced Pension and Retirement Programs, most of whom are age 40 or older.

Prior to October 2006, workers had been allowed to reapply for jobs after a 6-month waiting period, the EEOC said.

"Both parties see a settlement as a good alternative to further litigation," Louis Graziano, an EEOC lawyer handling the case, said in an interview. "If we are going to settle this thing, it's going to happen sooner rather than later. But we need to get to that point soon."

Mark Siegel, a spokesman for Dallas-based AT&T, declined to comment directly on the case but said AT&T does not tolerate discrimination of any sort, including on the basis of age.

AT&T employs 272,450 people, according to its website.

The EEOC lawsuit sought the rehiring of payment of back wages to affected workers and a ban on further discrimination.

AT&T shares closed up 10 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $26.74 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The case is EEOC v. AT&T Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 09-07323.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Sinead Carew in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and Matthew Lewis)

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