Can there be age discrimination against subgroups of workers?

On Behalf of | Jan 25, 2017 | Age Discrimination |

As Minnesota residents may know, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits those age 40 and older from being discriminated against in the workplace. However, the question of how this type of discrimination applies to those above age 50 in comparison for those between ages 40 and 50 has come up in a number of cases, one of which might end up going before the United States Supreme Court. The Act doesn’t prohibit all discrimination based on age, just that affecting those over age 40. Therefore, if an employer gives preference to someone who is age 20 over someone age 30, this isn’t covered by the Act.

In one case, an employer, Pittsburgh Glass Works LLC, allegedly discriminated against workers age 50 and above when laying off workers back in 2009. According to the plaintiffs, the discrimination in this case was due to disparate impact meaning that even though the layoffs didn’t out right target workers over age 50, the layoffs still had the effect of age discrimination. However, the defendants argue that, since those between ages 40 and 50 were not allegedly discriminated against, there cannot be a disparate impact. They argue that for the Act to apply, all workers age 40 and above need to be affected, not just a subgroup of people those ages.

Three circuit courts in other caseslike this one have agreed with the same argument like the one the defendants made in Pittsburgh Glass Works case. However, in the Pittsburgh Glass Works case, the circuit court rejected the defendant’s argument. According to one attorney, the circuit court in this case was correct. The court determined that age was a “continuous variable.” This attorney also argues that protected categories such as race and sex could also be considered to be “continuous variables.”

It remains to be seen if the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the Pittsburgh Glass Works case, and if so, what the result would be. However, it is an interesting take on what the Age Discrimination in Employment Act means. In the meantime, those who believe they have been discriminated against due to their age may want to seek legal help to determine if the Act applies to the facts of their case.

Source: Minnesota Lawyer, “Age is a number, but discrimination is tricky,” Jan. 18, 2017