As if older Americans didn’t have enough to worry about with their investments tanking, their future social security checks in limbo, and fears over their health care the Supreme Court has decided to heighten their stress levels even more.
Yesterday, in a 5-4 decision the court ruled employees bringing federal age-discrimination claims bear the burden of proving their age was a primary factor in their dismissal by an employer.
The majority opinion, which fell along ideological lines, has dealt businesses an easier path to deflecting claims from older workers who allege they were discriminated against because of their age.
Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote: “The burden of persuasion does not shift to the employer to show that it would have taken the action regardless of age.” Thomas noted this legal rule applies “even when a plaintiff has produced some evidence that age was one motivating factor.”
Writing the court’s dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens argued that the majority was engaging “in an unabashed display of judicial lawmaking” – claiming the vote overturns earlier employment-discrimination precedent and disregards 1991 changes in federal civil-rights laws.
This court ruling can only boost fears of older Americans already placed in an awkward position in this recession. Older Americans are being increasingly laid off for many reasons, though most stem from senior workers commanding higher salaries and being closer to retirement age than younger applicants.
To that end, some companies have forgone the adage “last one hired, first one fired” and instead opt to lay off longtime employees in an effort to save money by paying younger employees less.
With the court now placing the burden in proving wrongful job dismissal due to ageism on the worker, it seems like yet another loss for the older and often loyal American worker.
Older readers, have you become increasingly fearful that your age may lead to your dismissal at work?
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Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.