The Supreme Court has ruled 5-3 that workers 40 and older can file lawsuits claiming
an employer's policy--while neutral on its face--has a disproportionate adverse
effect on them, Reuters reports.
Lower courts had been divided on the issue of whether the federal Age Discrimination
in Employment Act allows disparate-impact claims. In disparate-impact claims, plaintiffs argue that the consequences of an employer's policy or practice are discriminatory rather than argue that the motives behind it are discriminatory.
While the Supreme Court ruled that such claims are allowed under ADEA, it said the plaintiffs
in the specific case before it failed to prove that they had a valid disparate-impact
In the case, 30 police officers and dispatchers over age 40 in Jackson, Mississippi,
said the city's pay policy was discriminatory because it gave workers with five
or fewer years of tenure proportionately larger wage increases than workers
with more seniority.
The city argued that the policy was implemented to remain competitive with
surrounding communities in attracting and retaining officers.
"The city's decision to grant a larger raise to lower echelon employees
for the purpose of bringing salaries in line with that of surrounding police
forces was a decision based on a 'reasonable factor other than age' that responded
to the city's legitimate goal of retaining police officers," wrote Justice
John Paul Stevens for the majority.
The Bloomberg news service reports that in the ruling, the court said ADEA
has a narrower scope for disparate-impact claims than Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 has for disparate-impact claims in race- and gender-bias
"Except for the substitution of 'age' for 'race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,' the language of ADEA and Title VII is identical. Unlike Title VII, however, ADEA significantly narrows its coverage by permitting any 'otherwise prohibited' action 'where the differentiation is based on reasonable
factors other than age'" wrote Stevens.