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Supreme Court softens age discrimination protections

The average age of U.S. Supreme Court justices is 69. All have lifetime appointments to the highest court in the land, so it is possible that they are not as concerned with age discrimination as many other older Americans.

According to a recent Forbes article, the justices recently made it more likely that fewer age discrimination claims will be pursued in the nation's courts, even though "age discrimination is widespread, well documented and, sadly, deeply entrenched in the American workplace."

The court recently let stand a lower court's decision in Villarreal v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. In the case, a 49-year-old man applied for a sales manager position at the tobacco company, but never heard back from them. Several years later, he found out that the company weeded out older job applicants and that its internal policy was to search for candidates "2-3 years out of college."

The Supreme Court agreed with the lower court's decision that said Villarreal's claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) only protected existing employees, not job applicants. It should be noted that the ADEA specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, firing, compensation or job terms.

The judicial trend on age discrimination matters is to defer to employers, Forbes says, citing the 2009 Supreme Court's Gross v. FBL Financial Services decision. In that decision the high court placed a heavy burden on plaintiffs, saying they must prove that age discrimination is the primary factor in their bias claim.

Forbes urges bipartisan congressional action to pass the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act and to broaden the ADEA (it covers only firms with at least 20 employees).

In Wisconsin, older workers are also protected against age discrimination by the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act.

You can discuss a claim with an employment law attorney at Milwaukee law offices of Alan C. Olson & Associates, s.c.

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