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SCOTUS ruling alters standard in federal wage discrimination cases

To call a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a key employment law matter “seminal” would be both understatement and a bit obvious. Every SCOTUS legal holding is arguably monumental

Last month’s 8-1 high-court outcome in a federal discrimination case was certainly that. One national publication summarizing the case termed it a resounding win “for older adults who have seen their legal protections from bias erode over the past 10 years.”

The SCOTUS ruling issued in a case involving a federal worker employed as a pharmacist. The petitioner was seeking reversal of an appellate court decision holding that she had failed to meet the relevant standard required to prove that her promotion failure owed to age bias.

The lower court based its denial on a decade-old SCOTUS-authored opinion that legions of employment law commentators have steadfastly criticized. The ruling in that case mandated that complainants establish that age alone (over 40 in federal cases) was the sole cause – the “but for” element – in a discriminatory outcome. That standard has consistently been regarded as employer-friendly and an unfairly high hurdle for workers suffering age discrimination to clear.

They will no longer have to clear it. The recent SCOTUS ruling makes clear that no degree of workplace discrimination of 40-and-older federal workers will be tolerated. The court tossed the “but for” threshold, holding that federal workers alleging age bias now need to prove only that they suffered differentiated treatment during any personnel process that adversely affected them.

Age bias and other forms of federal employment discrimination often involve complex facts coupled with detailed and time-sensitive procedural requirements. An empathetic and knowledgeable legal team that focuses exclusively on federal employment law can provide guidance and, when necessary, diligent representation in a given matter.

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