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Appeals ruling buoys disparate impact claim

A recent ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals may make it less challenging for subgroups of older workers throughout New Jersey and the rest of the nation to file lawsuits under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA, with a disparate impact theory of liability. The ruling differs from the decisions issued by several circuit courts.

The defendant in the case, Pittsburgh Glass Works, had conducted reductions in force, which resulted in nearly 100 terminated employees. The plaintiffs, a group of the terminated employees who were over the age of 50, sought a putative ADEA collective action against their former employer alleging disparate impact claims.

There are requirements to launching a prima facie suit for disparate impact via the ADEA. The plaintiff is obligated to identify a particular, facially neutral policy and present statistical evidence that the policy resulted in a significant inequality based on age.

The collective action was certified and then decertified by the district court after it eventually decided that the policy specified by the plaintiffs, which disproportionately targeted a subgroup of employees older than 50, actually favored the younger members, those between the ages of 40 and 50, of the protected class. However, on appeal, the court affirmed that disparate impact claims regarding subgroups are cognizable under the ADEA and that they are not restricted to 40-and-older comparisons.

The court acknowledged that its ruling contradicted those of other appeals court. It expressed its reluctance to initiate a split with the circuit but gave compelling reasons for why it diverged.

Workplace discrimination can include discrimination based on an individual's age. If a client's employee rights have been violated, an attorney may file a lawsuit under the corresponding federal law in order to obtain financial compensation to account for lost wages.

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