Last week, in a 5-to-4 decision in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., the Supreme Court made it harder for employees to win age discrimination lawsuits.
The lawsuit was brought by Jack Gross, a longtime employee of FBL Financial Services, Inc., who was demoted at the age of 54 through what the employer called a restructuring. Gross argued his demotion was the result of his age and filed suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, which prohibits employment discrimination against workers over the age of 40.
In a broad decision, the Court reversed a longstanding rule used by many federal appellate courts that provided for a two-step process in some age discrimination cases under the ADEA. Previously, the employee had to demonstrate that age was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision, which then shifted the burden to the employer to prove that the action was based on grounds other than age. Now, the employee carries the full burden of showing that age was the determining factor in a demotion or layoff by an employer.
Seniors’ rights and civil rights groups denounced the decision.
‘By putting on the worker the entire burden of demonstrating the absence or insignificance of such factors, the majority has effectively freed employers to discriminate against older workers, as long as they do not actually state that they are singling out an employee for adverse treatment solely because of age,’ said the National Senior Citizens Law Center in a statement.