What Is the Burden of Proof In Age-Discrimination Cases?

In Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a plaintiff claiming a violation of the ADEA must do more than prove that age was “a motivating factor” in the adverse employment action. Rather, the plaintiff must prove that the action would not have occurred “but for” the employee’s age, making ADEA cases harder for plaintiffs to win than other kinds of discrimination cases. Legislation to overturn the Gross case has been introduced and is pending in the Senate and House.

That proposal, called “The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act,” would adopt the burden of proof currently used in mixed motive disparate treatment cases under Title VII. Under that approach, once a plaintiff proves that age was a “motivating factor” for the adverse action, he or she would win unless the employer proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the same decision would have been made if age had not been considered. 

At Young Conaway’s Annual Employment Law Seminar on April 28, we will discuss the prospects for passage of the POWADA and how it would affect the defense of ADEA cases.

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