High Court Bolsters Age-Bias Arguments

The Supreme Court is making it easier for older workers to win age-discrimination cases. Thursday, the court ruled that when a company harms older workers more than younger ones, it must show the action wasn't taken because of age.

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The Supreme Court has made it easier for older workers to win age-discrimination cases. Yesterday, the court ruled that when a company harms older workers more than younger ones, the company has to show it is not because of age. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT: In the mid-1990s, Noel's Atomic Powered Laboratory in upstate New York had to lay off workers. It designed a formula for who would go based on things like performance and skills. In the end, though, nearly everyone who got sacked was at least 40 years old. And most of them decided to sue. Among their arguments was this: regardless of the lab's intent, casting off so many older workers was discriminatory.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled it was up to employers to prove workers lost their jobs for reasons other than age. Dan Kohrman is a senior attorney with AARP, the national advocacy group for people 50 and over. He praised the ruling and thinks it will encourage more suits.

Mr. DAN KOHRMAN (Attorney, AARP): Federal court for the last decade or more hasn't been a very hospitable place for these kinds of claims. Now older workers who feel that they've been disadvantaged by corporate downsizing, they can think, well, maybe I have a chance of challenging this.

LANGFITT: But Neal Mollen(ph), an employment attorney with the law firm Paul Hastings, doubts the ruling will have a big impact. He said that in the small number of suits that are close calls, it might tip the scales in favor of workers.

Mr. NEAL MOLLEN (Attorney, Paul Hastings): It's a sort of the tie goes to the runner sort of thing.

LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington.

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