Age Discrimination Standard at Heart of Case before the United States Supreme Court

27 Apr



At the end of March, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments from the attorneys in the case of Gross v. F.B.L. Financial Services.  In the case, the plaintiff had sued his employer claiming age discrimination when he was demoted from one position to another, the latter of which had a lower salary.  The plaintiff in the case was 54 years old.


The primary issue in the case is what is does a plaintiff need to establish in an age discrimination case.  There is a line of cases, otherwise know as precedent, which suggests that it is only necessary for a plaintiff to prove that age was a “motivating factor” in the employment decision, while another line of cases indicates that the plaintiff is required to show “direct evidence” of discrimination.  In the case before the Supreme Court, the plaintiff had presented evidence at trial that age was a motivating factor, which resulted in a jury award to him of approximately $47,000.00.  However, the defendant appealed that verdict claiming that direct evidence of discrimination was required and had not been shown.  The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit sided with the Defendant (see decision here).


The Supreme Court granted the plaintiff’s request for review of the Eighth Circuit’s decision.  In addition to whether the overarching standard is “motivating factor” or “direct evidence,” there were a number of other issues to be sorted out by the high Court, including, in particular, what is meant by “direct evidence”.  Practitioners in the employment law arena look forward to the decision by the Supreme Court to help define some of these concepts that are involved in age discrimination law suits.  A decision is expected within the Supreme Court’s current term, which runs until October.


This blog entry is written by Chris Renz, a shareholder at Thomsen & Nybeck, P.A. Chris practices in the litigation area of the firm with primary focus on real estate litigation, employment litigation, townhome and condominium law, and criminal law, particularly as the prosecutor for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. 






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