Posted on 20 June 2008
By Mark Miller
A Supreme Court ruling yesterday will make it easier for older workers to pursue age discrimination claims, and will give companies pause before letting go of their older senior employees. The ruling puts the burden on employers to prove that a layoff based not on age but some other factor. According to the New York Times:
The 7-to-1 decision overturned a ruling by the federal appeals court in New York, which said employees had the burden of disproving an employer’s defense of reasonableness.
The case was brought by 28 employees who lost their jobs during cutbacks at a federal research laboratory in upstate New York. All but one of the employees who were laid off were at least 40, the age at which protections begin under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
The issue in the case, while technical, is important for the litigation of age discrimination cases in which an employer’s action or policy that appears neutral on its face has a disparate impact on older workers. David Certner, the chief legislative counsel for AARP, praised the decision and said it would prove “vital to the creation and maintenance of a workplace that is fair and free of age bias.”
It’s an important ruling as more older workers look for ways to stay employed past traditional retirement. Most workers retire when they become eligible for Social Security at age 62, but that’s likely to change as baby boomers head for retirement. Boomers will want to work, and many will need to stay on the job due to financial need.