US Supreme Court Stays Out of Pilots' Age Suit

May 2, 2005 ( - The US Supreme Court has refused a request from a pilot's group to review a federal rule mandating their retirement when they reach age 60.

>In their latest decision, the high court let stand a lower court ruling in favor of the Federal Aviation Administration, which has argued that the rule is a necessary safety measure since pilots lose critical cognitive and motor skills as they get older, according to the Associated Press.

However, a group of 12 pilots called the decades-old rule discriminatory and said their competency and health should be considered when deciding their ability to fly. The pilots’ appeal was backed by low-fare carrier Southwest Airlines, which argued in a friend-of-the-court filing that FAA data shows older pilots are “as safe as, and in some cases safer than, their younger colleagues.”

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court expanded job protections for workers age 40 and over by allowing them to file age-bias claims over hiring and salary policies that disproportionately hurt them even if employers never intended any harm (See Supreme Court Rules Age Discrimination Does Not Need to Be Deliberate ).

But the 5-3 opinion also granted employers additional defenses to ultimately win at trial by citing reasonable explanations for their policies, such as safety. In doing so, justices reasoned that age can affect performance in some occupations.

The pilots’ case is Butler v. FAA, 04-1233.