Federal workers in New Jersey and around the country could find it easier to pursue age discrimination claims after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. On April 6, the justices voted 8-1 to lower the burden faced by federal employees who file lawsuits due to alleged breaches of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The landmark legislation, which was signed into law in 1967 by President Johnson, protects workers who are 40 years of age or older against unfair treatment in the workplace based on their age.

Pharmacist files age discrimination lawsuit

The case the justices ruled on was filed by a Department Veterans Affairs pharmacist in 2014. The woman claimed that she was denied training opportunities, holiday pay and a promotion due, in part, to her age. The VA argued that the ADEA only applies in such cases if age is the only reason for adverse employment actions rather than one of several reasons. VA attorneys maintained that both the text of the law and previous court rulings supported their position.

Interpreting the law

The court’s opinion, which was delivered by Justice Samuel Alito, conceded that relief under the provisions of the ADEA has generally been denied when plaintiffs have been unable to establish age as the sole reason for workplace discrimination. However, the justices determined that the courts have misinterpreted the law. They ruled that federal employees must only prove that age was the reason for differential treatment and not the reason for an adverse action. The ruling does not apply to private-sector workers because Congress put different rules into place for federal employees when the ADEA was expanded to cover them in 1974.

Holding employers responsible for discrimination

If you have been treated unfairly at work and you think your age was the reason why, you may wish to consult with an attorney experienced in these matters. An attorney could assess the merits of your claim and how the law may help you. An attorney could also encourage your employer to settle the matter privately at the negotiating table to protect its reputation and avoid the costs of protracted litigation.