Babb v. Wilkie

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Employment Law
  • Date Filed: April 6, 2020
  • Case #: 18-882
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, GORSUCH, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined, and in which GINSBURG, J., joined as to all but footnote 3. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which GINSBURG, J., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
  • Full Text Opinion

The plain language of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 shows that age need not be the but-for cause of a personnel action for there to be a violation of 29 U.S.C. § 633a(a).

Petitioner was a pharmacist at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Petitioner alleged various forms of discrimination, including age discrimination, after being denied training opportunities and losing eligibility for promotion. Respondent moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion on the basis that Respondent offered legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for the challenged actions and that no reasonable jury could find that the reasons were pretextual. Petitioner appealed and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the argument was foreclosed by circuit precedent. The United States Supreme Court held that while 29 U.S.C. § 633a(a) requires plaintiffs to show that age consideration was the but-for cause of a personnel action, if it played a lesser part in the decision some remedies may still be appropriate. The Court looked to the plain language of 29 U.S.C. § 633a(a) to resolve the circuit split in interpretation. The Court rejected Respondent’s argument that liability is only imposed when age discrimination is the but-for cause of a personnel action. The phrases “free from” and “shall be made” in the language of the statute relate to each other to mean that personnel decisions must be untainted by any consideration of age. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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