Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Employers Can Discriminate Against Younger Workers


We are coming to the time of year employers may be receiving an increased number of resumes or job applications from recent graduates who are still looking for their first job out of college or even high school. While they bring many positive attributes to the workforce such as technologically savvy, confidence, and have high expectations, there are negative stereotypes associated with the group as well.

While The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) clearly states that you may discriminate against younger age. While it unlawful for you to “discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age.”, it is important to note that only workers who are at least 40 years old are allowed to file a claim under the ADEA.

The Supreme Court’s February 2004 decision in General General Dynamics Land Sys., Inc. v. Cline was a stunning legal development in that it allowed the discrimination of younger employees. The Court observed that “if Congress had been worrying about protecting the younger against the older, it would not likely have ignored everyone under forty.”

Writing for the majority, Justice Souter explained that while the ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer to “discriminate against any individual with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges
of employment, because of such individual’s age,” the word “age” can have two meanings. “Age” can either refer to any number of years lived, or it can be regarded as common shorthand for old age. The majority concluded that “age” had the latter meaning in the context of the ADEA’s prohibition against age discrimination. Therefore, it did not prohibit discrimination against the young.

Justice Scalia dissented on the grounds that the word “age” was ambiguous, and the Court should defer to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s understanding, which was that the ADEA barred
employers from making any age-based employment decisions.

Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Kennedy, dissented separately, stating that “age” was not ambiguous and clearly was not intended to mean “old age.”

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