The Supreme Court, in a case stemming from Delta Air Lines' takeover of Western Air Lines, has refused to let Delta force the retirement of a group of flight engineers over age 60.

The justices, without comment, let stand a ruling that Delta is bound by an age-bias lawsuit the flight engineers won against Western.A federal judge in California ordered Western in 1981 to abandon its mandatory retirement age of 60 for flight engineers. The judge also permitted pilots to bid for flight engineer jobs when they approached 60, the retirement age for pilots.

That ruling stemmed from a suit by 15 flight engineers who accused Western of violating the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act aimed at protecting older workers.

Their victory was upheld in 1985 by the Supreme Court in a ruling that set guidelines for enforcing the federal law.

When Delta merged with Western in 1987, it sought to force the retirement of the 15 unless they agreed to take on-ground jobs.

Delta said its offer was in line with its policy barring captains and co-pilots over 60 from becoming flight engineers.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last October that Delta is bound by the 1981 court order enforcing the flight engineers' victory against Western.

"Delta may be free to execute its own policies to other employees, but it is not free to abrogate (Western's) obligations to" the former Western employees, the appeals court said. "There is a continuity of operations between the merged airlines, Delta had notice of Western's obligations and Delta has the ability to provide relief."

Some of the 15 have retired voluntarily.