Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Supreme Court Takes Up Age Discrimination Class Warfare - The Forty Year Olds vs. Those Over 50

What has been dubbed a reverse discrimination case is being argued today before the Supreme Court. The suit, General Dynamics v. Cline pits a group of those between the ages of 40 to49 who were not eligbile for retiree benefits unless they were 50 or older on a July 1, 1997 The argument at its very simplest is: 1) we are over 40, so it is illegal to discriminate against us because of our age; 2) we are not getting a benefit solely because of our age, therefore 3) the defendant is guilty of age discrimination. Obviously it is a lot more complicated than that, but I think that pretty well sums up what it is all about.

As you can see from the post at the Benefits Blog, a decision finding age discrimination would create all kinds of havoc with benefit plans. For a look at the consequences and why the Court shouldn't uphold the decision of the 6th Circuit see the amicus brief [pdf] in support of granting the writ of certiorari filed by numerous pro-employer groups. The decision was by a divided court, with the deciding vote cast by my old friend from summer clerkship days at Vorys, Sater in Columbus, Justice Guy Cole. He summed up where he stood as follows:
In short, the result we reach today strikes me as counterintuitive. But, the clarity with which Congress spoke convinces me that the ADEA permits younger workers in the protected class to sue their employers for age discrimination that favors older employees. Also, although a close call, I do not believe that our result violates Supreme Court precedent. For those reasons, I agree to reverse the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' ADEA claims.
Whether he correctly anticipated the Supreme Court's view remains to be seen. One prophecy of my own, if Justice Thomas writes the decision, General Dynamics is doomed.

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