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February 25, 2004
ADEA Can't Be Used in Reverse, Supreme Court Rules

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the 1967 law that prohibits discrimination against workers over the age of 40, doesn't apply when those same workers believe that more-senior colleagues have received preferential treatment.

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Before the ruling, companies that offered attractive retirement packages to workers in their 60s might have been vulnerable to lawsuits from employees in their 40s or 50s, the Associated Press reports. About 70 million workers--representing half of the American workforce--are on the far side of 40.

It came as no surprise, therefore, that the case of General Dynamics Land Systems Inc. v. Cline drew lots of scrutiny.

The AP reports that the lawsuit had been brought by about 200 people who worked in Ohio and Pennsylvania for a division of General Dynamics, the military contractor. They claimed that a change in the benefits program there discriminated against them, since they were too young to receive benefits being offered to older colleagues.

But the court, in a 6-3 decision that reversed a lower-court ruling, said the ADEA is meant only to protect older workers from preferential treatment given to younger workers--not the reverse.

"The statute does not mean to stop an employer from favoring an older employee over a younger one," Justice David H. Souter wrote on behalf of the majority.

The Bush administration had argued--unsuccessfully--that the law was "crystal clear" in protecting people over 40 from discrimination, even when contested actions help more senior co-workers.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissenting opinion, agreed. The ADEA "clearly allows for suits brought by the relatively young when discriminated against in favor of the relatively old," he wrote.

Links

Associated Press article, via Yahoo!

Supreme Court of the United States

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