Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. knows what it's like to defend itself against accusations of age discrimination. In 2002 several of the company's older employees filed a class action suit against the Akron, Ohio-based tire manufacturer for violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which Congress enacted in 1967 to protect employees over 40 from
For whatever reason, the lower courts have been split on the issue. By allowing employees to bring disparate impact claims under ADEA in Smith, the high court has put that debate to rest. But the decision made "disparate impact" narrower in scope for ADEA than it is under Title VII.
ADEA permits any "otherwise prohibited" action where the "differentiation is based on reasonable factors other than age (RFOA)." The Supreme Court said Congress limited ADEA's coverage by including this provision because it isn't uncommon that age, unlike Title VII's protected classifications, has relevance to an individual's capacity to engage in certain types of employment.
"We certainly expect to see an increase in litigation for these types of suits, especially in the circuits where, prior to Smith, the courts refused to recognize disparate impact under ADEA," Snyder says.
What happens in that litigation will further define the high court's decision
Just how many of these suits will pop up remains to be seen. But any way you look at it, McCann believes this decision is great news for employees.
"The best thing to come out of this case is now when employers are developing new employment policies or practices, they will review them for possible disparate impacts based on age, just as they've always had do for race and gender," she says.