Get off my lawn!

Yesterday a bunch of old people on the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1967 Age Discrimination Act does not work in reverse. To quote this Yahoo News story:

Age has its benefits, the Supreme Court said, ruling that younger workers can’t sue their employers when older colleagues get preferential treatment.

In a 6-3 decision that affects tens of millions of workers, the justices said Tuesday that the law that protects older employees from age discrimination doesn’t apply in reverse.

…The Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by about 200 General Dynamics Corp. workers who claimed they suffered a type of reverse discrimination because they were too young to get benefits being offered to colleagues age 50 and over. …The workers claimed they were protected by the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which forbids age discrimination of any worker 40 or older. About 70 million U.S. workers are 40 or older, roughly half the nation’s work force.

This has a potentially large impact on those of us who work in the fields of employment testing and Human Resources in general. What’s interesting is that the people bringing the suit are all over 40, which means they were supposedly protected against discrimination on the basis of their age. The Court, however, took the stance that this protection does not apply when the recipients of the preferential treatment are older still.

After mulling this over a bit, I’ve decided this makes sense. In this case, older workers were being given early retirement if they were over 50 (which is ironic, since many discrimination cases come about on the basis of people not getting a job instead of not losing it). The employer may not have been able to offer the same deal to every one age 40 and up, and forcing them to would have resulted in either a) unreasonable hardship on the company, or b) the company’s deciding to not offer the benefit to anyone.

The law was originally designed, in effect, to protect older workers from younger ones –not younger workers from older ones. As Justice David H. Souter said in the decision, “The enemy of 40 is 30, not 50.” Now we begin to wait for someone to come up and say that this means race and sex are as relative as age.

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