On June 9th, the United States Supreme Court made it harder for employees in America to prove a claim of age discrimination. In a 5-4 decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the High Court ruled that the workers can no longer simply prove that age was a motivating factor in their demotion or firing. Rather, the Supreme Court held that workers must now bear the burden of proving that their age was the decisive factor behind the employer’s adverse employment action.
The ruling overturned a $47,000 jury verdict in favor of Jack Gross, a 54-year old insurance claims adjuster from Iowa. Gross was demoted by his employer when it underwent a company-wide reorganization and his job was given to another employee in her 40s. Gross sued his employer for violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) and the trial judge instructed the jury that Gross had to prove that age was a “motivating factor” in the demotion. The judge also said the company had to establish that it had other reasons, besides age, for replacing Gross.
In Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employees must prove that “age was the ‘but-for’ cause of the challenged employment action.” Under this new decision, workers must now prove that age and age alone caused their demotion or firing. In a strong rebuke of the majority decision, Justice John Paul Stevens accused the court’s majority of “an unabashed display of judicial lawmaking.” Justice Stevens noted that the Supreme Court and Congress had previously said that when “mixed motives” are involved in an employment case, such as a racial discrimination case, the employer must defend its decision. Justice Stevens reasoned that the same approach should apply in age discrimination cases. Many experts view the High Court’s ruling in Gross as a big win for big business and a real loss for workers. The problem can only be resolved now by Congress.
Source: Los Angeles Times and Law.com
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