Top Court Rules On Age Bias Case
By George Anderson
By a 5-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that age bias against workers over 40 is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, even if it is unintentional.
With its ruling, the nation’s highest court has said that discrimination based on age, as has been previously ruled in cases of racial and sexual discrimination, can not be legally justified even if it results from workplace rules intended to benefit.
Citing an earlier decision of the court in a case filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, “good faith does not redeem employment procedures or testing mechanisms that operate as ‘built-in headwinds’ for minority groups and are unrelated to measuring job capability.”
Thomas Goldstein, the attorney for the 30 police officers and dispatchers who were plaintiffs in this case – Smith v. City of Jackson – said, “It is a very significant ruling because it is so hard to prove purposeful age discrimination.”
AARP lawyer Laurie McCann said, “You don’t often have a smoking gun. This is a huge shot in the arm for age-discrimination plaintiffs.”
Stephen Bokat of the National Chamber Litigation Center told USA Today, the Court’s ruling means employers will need to be very careful in making corporate policy decisions
that affect workers over 40, such as changes to retirement and benefits’ programs.
Moderator’s Comment: Do you agree with the Supreme Court ruling that intent is not necessary to establishing age discrimination in the workplace? What
will this ruling mean for employers in retailing and related industries?
The good news for employers in this ruling is that the Court has said that if legitimate factors other than age can be established for a workplace decision,
companies cannot be found guilty of discrimination.
According to the USA Today report citing numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 72.8 million workers were over age 40 in the
George Anderson – Moderator
- Justices rule for over-40 workers – USA Today
- ADEA allows disparate impact claims – sort of – Law Memo Employment Law Blog
- Smith v. City of Jackson (pdf download – Adobe Acrobat required) – Supreme Court
of the United States