On June 18, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., a case brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
In a 5 - 4 decision, the Court held that when an employee has produced evidence that age was one of several motivating factors in an adverse employment decision, the burden of persuasion does not shift to the employer to show that it would have taken the action without regard for age.
Under this ruling, ADEA cases would be handled differently than Title VII discrimination cases in which the burden does shift to the employer upon a showing that the protected characteristic played a role in the decision.
In the Gross ruling, the Court revisited the burden-shifting framework and concluded that Congress did not intend for the framework used in cases brought under Title VII to be applied to mixed motive ADEA cases.
Lawsuits alleging age discrimination have been steadily increasing in recent years, as the proportion of older workers in the workforce has grown.
SHRM, along with the National Federation of Independent Business’s Small Business Legal Center, filed an amicus brief in support of the employer in the Gross case. SHRM did not take a position on whether the employee in this particular case suffered from age discrimination, but we felt it was important to clarify what standard of proof will be applied to ADEA cases in the various circuits. Through its decision in Gross, the U.S. Supreme Court has provided that clarification.
To read SHRM’s amicus brief, please click HERE. To read the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, please click HERE.