In ADEA lawsuits, the employee has the burden of proof.
  • Blog post

In ADEA lawsuits, the employee has the burden of proof.

ADEA disparate impact news may not be as bad as feared

Last year around this time we told you about an ominous Supreme Court ruling that expanded your potential exposure to Age Discrimination in Employment Act lawsuits.

We’re pleased to be able to report that as court decisions resulting from that ruling start to roll in, the news isn’t as bad as everyone may have feared.

A decision from the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals illustrates how high a hill employees still have to climb to prove an ADEA disparate impact claim.

Not that wide a net

Disparate impact involves a policy or practice that appears age-neutral, but in fact discriminates against those over 40. When the Supreme Court ruled last spring that employees could bring disparate impact suits under the ADEA, it widened the net considerably. Before, an employee had to prove age bias was intentional to win a suit.

But the net’s not as wide as some might think. In the recent case, a fired 51-year-old manager claimed that a policy of getting rid of over-40 employees while hiring under-40s had a disparate impact on him. The court threw out the case, saying the firm cited good business reasons, including making retention decisions based on skills the company needed.

The good news here: While in a Title VII disparate impact case (race, sex, religion, etc.) the employer must show “business necessity” for its moves, in an age law (ADEA) case the employer only has to show a bona fide reason other than age.

What it means: In Title VII cases of this kind, the employer must prove it absolutely had to do what it did. That can be tough. But in ADEA cases, you only have to show that your decision was reasonable and not age-based.

Cite: Pippin v. Burlington Resources, No. 04-2157, 10th Cir., 2/14/06.

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