WASHINGTON (CN) – A laboratory that reduced its work force did not meet its burden of disproving age discrimination, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.
The federal government ordered Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory to reduce its work force, and 30 of the 31 fired employees were age 40 or older. This prompted an age-discrimination lawsuit. The 2nd Circuit found in favor of the laboratory.
The Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that Knolls bore the burden of proving that the employees were terminated for reasonable factors other than age (RFOA).
He determined that the RFOA clause should be treated similarly to another exemption for a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ).
However, Justice Souter also ruled that the plaintiff needs to point to a specific discriminatory practice. This would discourage “strike suits or nudging plaintiffs with marginal cases into court.”
In remanding the case, Souter wrote, “Whether the outcome should be any different when the burden is properly placed on the employer is best left to that court in the first instance.”
Justice Thomas dissented in part, and Justice Breyer took no part in the decision.