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Articles Posted in Age Discrimination

In June 2009, I discussed the New Jersey Appellate Division’s age discrimination ruling that it is illegal for an employer not to renew an employment contract because the employee is over 70 years old. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently agreed, and affirmed the Appellate Division’s decision.

Specifically, in Nini v. Mercer County Community College, New Jersey’s highest court ruled that a company’s decision not to renew an employment contract is more like firing a current employee than deciding not to hire a job candidate. As a result, the Court concluded that even though the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) allows employers to refuse to hire employees because they are over 70 years old, that exception does not apply when a company decides not to renew an employee’s contract after he or she turns 70.

In explaining its decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court stated that the purpose of the LAD is to protect New Jersey citizens “from all forms of discrimination in employment and, in particular, to protect our older citizens from being forced out of the workplace based solely on age.” It also indicated that the over 70 exception is meant to allow employers to avoid the cost of training new employees who have “limited long-term prospects.” However, that does not apply to an employee who already has been working for the company and does not need training.

Supreme Court Rules Employer Has Burden to Prove Adverse Employment Action Based on Reasonable Factors Other Than Age

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. 621, et seq. (“ADEA”), is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment because of age. On June 19, 2008, the United States Supreme Court made it easier for employees to prevail in disparate impact claims under the ADEA, by placing an important burden of proof on the employer. A disparate impact case under the ADEA is when an individual seeks to prove that his or her employer illegally discriminated against him or her because of age, even though it did not necessarily intend to discriminate, because it used a specific test, requirement, or practice that disproportionately harmed employees who are at least 40 years old.

In that case, Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, the Supreme Court interpreted a provision of the ADEA that permits an employer to take an adverse employment action against an employee, even if the employment action is “otherwise prohibited” by the ADEA, as long as the adverse action is “based on reasonable factors other than age.” The Supreme Court ruled that if an employer seeks to rely on that defense, it has the burden to prove that its decision was based on a reasonable factor other than age.