Supreme Court Weighs Age Discrimination Case

March 20, 2002 ( - A debate over whether older workers can sue their employers over layoffs will play out in the US Supreme Court today.

A lower court , citing the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) that prohibits on-the-job age bias, had thrown out a claim by a group of Florida workers who had charged that a layoff action had a “disparate impact” on older workers.

Case History

About 120 former Florida Power Corp. employees charged in federal court that they were fired when the their employer attempted to reduce salary and pension costs.

More than 70% of those laid off during company reorganizations in the 1990s were older than 40, the workers claimed.

The employees sued in federal court under the 1967 ADEA – which states that older workers may not be treated differently solely based on age, but the appellate court ruled that they could not bring the charge under that law.

A ruling in favor of the power company could end “disparate impact” claims under the act.

Should such a decision be reached, elderly workers would have to prove an intent to discriminate by employers in order to win future age bias cases. Such an argument is harder to make than a “disparate impact” case.

The case is Adams v. Florida Power Corp.