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Third Circuit Makes Clear To Employers: Age Biases Could Result In Court Cases

On Tuesday, the U.S Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit made it clear to employers that they could be taken to court for policies that protected employees aged 40 or older but were detrimental to other age subgroups such as people in their 50s. An age discrimination class action case filed by the former employees of Pittsburgh Glass Works propelled the aforementioned court to recognize the disparate impact claims of the subgroups under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The story broken by P.J. D’Annunzio in the legal intelligencer reveals that the former employees of Pittsburgh Glass Works claimed in Karlo v. Pittsburgh Glass Works that they have identified a practice at their organization that favors those in their 40s and inordinately impacts employees aged 50 and over. The district court rejected the disparate claims but the Third Circuit reversed the ruling and made the claims valid under the ADEA.

In the court’s opinion, Chief Judge Brooks Smith made it clear that the purpose of the provisions made by the ADEA was addressing policies that are ‘fair in form but operate discriminatorily’. This included the replacement of employees in their 50s with those in their 40s who in spite of being younger are protected by the ADEA. To back his statement that the ADEA embargoes age discriminations as a whole and not just 40 & over discrimination, Brooks Smith referred to the U.S. Supreme Court case of O’Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers filed in 1996.

The high court made it clear in the court’s opinion that discrimination against employees isn’t banned by the aforementioned act simply because the employees are aged 40 or older. Although it prevents age-related employee discrimination, the aforementioned act limits the protected class to people aged 40 or older. The court ruled that as long as a person has lost out due to his age, the fact that one person in the protected class has lost out to another person in the same become trivial.

Keeping the reasoning of the high court in mind, Judge Brooks Smith concluded that the analysis of the Supreme Court in O’Connor answers the underlying question. He stated that the claim of disparate impact is supported by a specific, extrinsically neutral policy that markedly disfavors employees aged 50 and over. According to Smith, in the evaluation of whether the oldest employees of a company were inordinately affected due to their age, the employer’s policy favoring younger individuals of the 40 and over brigade becomes a trivial factor.

Finally, Samuel J. Cordes, the legal representative of the class members stated that the ruling of the Third Circuit created a circuit split with a minimum of three other courts on the controversial issue of disparate impact.

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