The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the burden of proof lies with employers in age discrimination lawsuits, not employees.
In 1996, Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, laid off 31 employees, 30 of whom were at least 40 years old.
As it turned out, that was not a wise decision, as such a disproportionate layoff of older workers was destined to raise an eyebrow or two.
So, not surprisingly, 28 of the laid-off workers sued Lockheed Martin for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The ADEA prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment, against employees who are 40 years of age or older.
The case made it all the way up to the Supreme Court, where the company testified that it had reasonably laid off the workers for factors other than age. Regardless, the Supreme Court Justices ruled 7-1 against Lockheed Martin for not proving its case, reversing a previous ruling by a Federal appeals court that had favored the company.
The higher court’s reversal set a precedent, that it’s an employer’s responsibility to prove that age was not among the factors in deciding to discharge older workers. Before the precedent, the lower courts were split regarding the issue of whether it’s employees or employers who bear the burden of proof in age discrimination lawsuits.
If you reasonably believe that you’re a victim of age discrimination by an employer, then you or your representative, such as your lawyer, may file a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
In fact, you or your representative must first file a charge with the EEOC before filing an age discrimination lawsuit in court. Don’t delay for long, as a relatively short statute of limitations applies.
Consult a lawyer to help you file your charge in a legally-compelling way. It might increase your chances that the EEOC will grant you the right to sue for age discrimination.