Before the High Court’s recent pronouncement, ADEA cases were usually decided using a burden shifting framework. Under this analysis, once the plaintiff produced evidence showing that age was a motivating factor in the demotion or firing, the burden was put on the defendant to prove that the action would have been taken regardless of age.
According to the court, this analysis is not authorized by the language of the ADEA. The correct approach, says the court, is for the burden to always stay with the plaintiff. Now, to be successful in an age discrimination suit, a plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that, with regards to the adverse employment decision, age was not just a motivating factor, but was the determinative factor. With the conclusion of many cases dependent on who ultimately has the burden of proof, this decision puts plaintiffs at a great disadvantage.
Though this decision is a victory for employers, it rests on the language of ADEA legislation. If Congress feels the effects are too unfair to employees, it is free to amend the statute to restore the burden shifting framework.
If you feel you have been the victim of age discrimination in the workplace, please do not let this decision deter you from seeking to defending your rights. Contact a qualified attorney to discuss your legal options.