Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of Gross vs. FBL Financial Services which makes it much harder for employees to prevail on claims of age discrimination. A plaintiff used to have to prove that age was a factor in their adverse job action — but it did not need to be the only factor. The employer, in response, could show that it had other reasons for the termination or demotion beyond the age of the employee.
In a 5-4 ruling, the court said that plaintiffs in ADEA cases have the complete burden of proving that age was the deciding factor in their dismissal or demotion. Given that the employee did not take part in the internal company deliberations leading to the termination or demotion, it will be very hard if not impossible to prove.
Age discrimination complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rose by 29% in 2008 as the economy led to more layoffs. Congress may consider a change in the law to re-instate the older methodology.