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Supreme Court to hear major age discrimination case

In a few days, the U.S. Supreme Court will open its 2013 term. Almost every year, the Court makes decisions on legal disputes that can have a major impact on the rights of individuals.

This term, the Court is hearing a case that could change how some cases of alleged workplace discrimination are litigated. Depending on how the justices rule, people in New Jersey who were discriminated against on the job because of their age could have more statutory tools at their disposal than before.

The case involves a former state employee who says he was fired because of his age and not his ability to do his work. According to Lexology, the plaintiff was an assistant attorney general in another state. When he was 61, he was fired and replaced with a younger person.

He sued the state under several theories, including the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA. He also included a claim based on the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which says that the government must treat people in similar situations the same way.

His ADEA claim was dismissed at trial after the judge determined that he was at the “policy-making level” at his workplace. The statute has an exception from wrongful termination claims for policy-making employees. But on appeal, the plaintiff’s right to sue under the Equal Protection Clause was upheld.

One of the main questions before the Court when it hears oral arguments in the case on Oct. 7 will be whether Congress intended for the ADEA to be the sole avenue through which people claiming age discrimination can pursue their case in federal court. If the Court rules that it isn’t, that could strengthen many future plaintiffs’ cases by enabling them to include other federal statutes and constitutional claims.

A decision probably will not be available for several months. We will update our readers on this case when new information becomes available.

Source: AARP, “U.S. Supreme Court Opens Its 2013 Term,” accessed Oct. 4, 2013

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