Supreme Court Rejects Reverse Age Discrimination Theory Under the ADEA

Volume 3, Issue 2
March 31, 2004

In a 6-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court held that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA") does not prohibit an employer from favoring older workers over younger workers, even when both groups of workers are covered by the ADEA, i.e., are 40 years of age or older. The Court also struck down an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") regulation, 29 C.F.R. § 1625.2(a), which set forth a contrary view, finding that the regulation was "clearly wrong".

The case centered around a 1997 collective bargaining agreement between General Dynamics and the United Auto Workers Union that eliminated the company's obligation to provide health benefits to future employee retirees, except for those current workers who were at least 50 years old. Employees who then were at least 40 years old, and thus covered by the ADEA, filed suit after obtaining a probable cause finding by the EEOC. The District Court dismissed the case, only to have the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reverse its decision.

After a lengthy discussion of the various meanings of the word "age", and the proper standards for statutory interpretation, the Court held that, unlike claims of reverse sex or race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), the ADEA's text, structure, purpose, history and relationship to other federal statutes show that the ADEA does not serve to stop an employer from favoring an older employee over a younger one.

This case is helpful to employers as it eliminates one additional legal theory of liability under the ADEA.

General Dynamics Land Sys., Inc. v. Cline, 124 S. Ct. 1236 (2004).

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