A New Ruling from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Means a New (and Lower) Hurdle for Federal Workers Pursuing Age Discrimination Actions

A new ruling from the federal appeals court based in Atlanta is good news for federal government workers – especially for those who incur age discrimination on the job, as that recent ruling has lowered the hurdle you need to clear to succeed. As is true of any type of discrimination you suffer on the job, age discrimination is potentially devastating. Don’t try to take on your legal action alone. Instead, reach out to and retain an experienced Atlanta age discrimination lawyer to represent you.

The underlying age discrimination case that spawned this ruling was one pitting a pharmacist against her employer, the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency allegedly had instituted a system for granting promotions that discriminated against older workers and female workers. The pharmacist testified on behalf of two colleagues after they filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and later filed her own EEOC complaint.

After going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court last year, the pharmacist’s case returned to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year. In that most recent ruling, the 11th Circuit clarified what the proper standard of analysis was for cases involving federal government workers who alleged claims of age discrimination and/or retaliation.

In the past, federal workers’ retaliation and age discrimination cases in the 11th Circuit (which includes Georgia, Florida, and Alabama) faced a high hurdle. The 11th Circuit court had stated that these workers, to win their cases, needed to prove what’s called “but-for” harm. In other words, they were required to show that, but for the discriminatory or retaliatory motive, they would not have suffered the workplace harm they allegedly suffered.

Now, in the aftermath of the appeals court’s 2021 ruling, these kinds of workers need not show that discrimination and/or retaliation was the “but-for” cause of their harm. They need only show that discrimination and/or retaliation was a motivating factor in the harm they suffered.

That’s rooted in the language of the statute itself. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act expressly says that “personnel decisions” like the one that allegedly harmed the pharmacist “shall be made free from any discrimination based on” age. The crucial word there was “any,” which the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted to mean “untainted by” any degree of discrimination or retaliation.

Note how much lower this hurdle is than proving “but-for” retaliation or discrimination. You don’t have to show that the discrimination/retaliation was the “but-for” cause. You don’t even have to show that it was the primary motivating force. If retaliatory and/or discriminatory motive played a role to any degree in the action that forms the basis of your lawsuit, then that’s generally actionable under the law.

Employment law is, like all areas of the law, subject to shifts and changes. To make sure you have the best chances for success in your employment case, be certain you have knowledgeable legal counsel who is fully up-to-date on the law. Count on the diligent and experienced Atlanta age discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert to be that kind of effective advocate for you. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.

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