U.S. Supreme Court Rules on Disparate Treatment Discrimination Claims under ADEA


On June 19, 2009, the United States Supreme Court rejected a "mixed-motive" analysis and held that plaintiffs bringing disparate treatment claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. Section 621 et seq., must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that, "but for" their age, the employer would not have taken the challenged adverse employment action.

The Court issued its 5-4 opinion in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., a case from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. In Gross, the plaintiff alleged that his employer, FBL Financial Services ("FBL"), demoted him because of his age, in violation of the ADEA. At trial, the court instructed the jury to enter a verdict for the plaintiff if he proved by a preponderance of the evidence that age was "a motivating factor" in FBL's decision to demote him. The court also instructed the jury to find in favor of FBL if it proved that it would have demoted the plaintiff regardless of his age. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that the jury was improperly instructed under the standard established in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989), for "mixed-motive" cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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