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High court mulls age discrimination

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Supreme Court Makes Proving Discrimination Easier

In June 2003 the Court held that “direct” evidence was not necessary in order to place the burden of proof on an Employer when discrimination is alleged. The meaning for Employers is that Employees who claim discrimination have a better chance of getting heard by a jury than in the past.

The evidence of discrimination is usually circumstantial. In such cases the Employer puts on evidence of the legitimate motive for it’s actions and the Employee must then show that the asserted reason is false. This standard allowed Courts to throw out many cases under the summary judgment procedure-thus no trial ever occurred. In some very rare cases the Employee has evidence, usually in the form of a clear statement from the company’s decision maker, that an unlawful motive is motivating the decision. In these rare instances the burden of proof is shifted to the Company to show it would have made the same decision even if the illegal motive were not in mind-a much harder thing to prove.

In Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, the Court held that such “direct” evidence was not required to shift this burden to the Employer. The Court concluded that for the case to go to the jury circumstantial evidence alone was sufficient, if enough such evidence was present that a “reasonable jury” could find discrimination.

The Desert Palace, case involved an interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (covering race, sex, national origin and religion). Whether this same standard will be applied to the age discrimination act and the other anti-discrimination statutes remains to be seen.

What it means to Employers is that more cases will result in jury trials. It also may motivate more Employees to require mandatory arbitration agreements to be signed by Employees.

 

 

 

 


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