Former Geneva Steel employees suffered another setback Monday in the $400 million pension lawsuit they filed against USX when U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins dropped the last of their age-discrimination claims from the lawsuit.

Giving no explanation, Jenkins dropped counts relating to the employees' claim that after Geneva Steel was idled, USX had younger employees at three other plants do the work older workers at Geneva Steel used to do.Attorneys for the employees were not surprised by the ruling and considered the setback minor. "The judge has said all along that our claim is a pension case and not necessarily an age case," said Allen K. Young, attorney for the 1,870 employees suing USX.

Jenkins' ruling drops the last of the age-discrimination claims against the company out of the case, affecting 1,200 of the plaintiffs. Monday's ruling means the employees have no claim against USX for violation of the federal Age Discrimination Employment Act.

Jenkins wrote that he would explain the rationale for dropping the counts at a later time. USX had asked that the counts be dropped and considered Monday's ruling an important victory.

"It means there will probably be a bench trial and not a jury trial," a USX attorney said. The attorney, who asked to remain anonymous, explained that all remaining claims in suit deal with possible violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. USX has filed a motion in federal court arguing that a trial to consider violations of that act should be before a judge and not a jury.

Whether USX violated the age discrimination or retirement income security act, the outcome is still the same, Young said. "If the ERISA claims are legitimate, the court will award them the same damages they would have been awarded under ADEA."

USX is eager to have a trial before a judge because "they seem to think that juries don't like big corporations," Young said. "We aren't sure that's true. We think both Judge Jenkins or a jury would be fair."

A judge trial might be an advantage, Young said. "With 1,870 plaintiffs with differing claims - some laid off, some retired, others going with a different company - we wonder if a jury could really understand it."

The suit, filed under the name of steelworker Tony Pickering, was filed April 10, 1987, in 4th District Court in Provo by Young. It called for $1.4 billion in lost benefits and punitive damages.

But it was drastically whittled down in December when Jenkins ruled that the workers could not seek punitive damages for violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Young speculated that the employees seek about $400 million in lost wages and benefits.

The case will go to trial March 18. The trial will probably run four to eight weeks, Young said.