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The Federal Age Discrimination Law Does Not Prohibit "Reverse" Discrimination

The ADEA prohibits "discrimination"...

Because of an individual's age" and protects all employees over the age of 40.

Under the ADEA, an employer shall not discriminate against an older worker in favor of a younger worker. However, the reverse situation is not protected by the ADEA.

The Supreme Court has established that an employer does not violate the ADEA by providing preferential treatment to older workers over younger ones, even where the younger workers are over the age of 40.

United States Supreme Court: General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline, No. 02-1080, 540 U.S. (2004).The Company and its Union negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that offered retiree Health Benefits only to those employees who were at least fifty years of age at the time of the agreement. A group of employees who were in their forties sued, claiming that the age requirement constituted illegal age discrimination in violation of the ADEA.

The Supreme Court held that the ADEA only prohibits discrimination in favor of younger employees and does not address discrimination that favors older workers. The Court acknowledged that the statute on its face could be read to prohibit discrimination in favor of older employees. The Court, however, reviewed the legislative history of the ADEA and determined that the purpose of the law was only to prohibit discrimination in favor of younger employees. Thus, the Court reversed the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, holding that the ADEA does not prohibit reverse age discrimination (in theory for now!!).

New York State and City Law may still prohibit employers from favoring older employees over younger ones. Unlike the ADEA, the New York State and City Human Rights Laws regarding age discrimination apply to all employees who are 18 or over. Moreover, at least one New York case has found that reverse age discrimination violates New York State Law. In McLean Trucking Co. v. State Human Rights Appeal Bd, 437 N.Y.S. 2d 309 (1 st Dep't 1981), aff'd , 55 N.Y.2d 910 (1982), the New York Appellate Court held that an employer violated the New York State and the New York City Human Rights Law when it applied a minimum age requirement of 24 to reject a 23-year-old applicant. Therefore, although the Supreme Court's decision in General Dynamics precludes reverse age discrimination claims under the ADEA, such claims may still survive under State and Local Laws.

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