So here’s a classic example of how federal courts give short shrift to victims of age discrimination compared to victims of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, color or national origin.
A federal appeals court has ruled that Lake County, Indiana, did not engage in age discrimination when it terminated 20 part-time workers in 2013, though all of the workers were over the age of 65. The County claimed it fired the workers for cost reasons because its insurer, Aetna, said the County would have to provide the workers with supplemental health insurance benefits.
The fired workers alleged discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
A panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently upheld the lower court’s dismissal of the case without a trial. The panel said there is no evd “is no evidence that the county engaged in any prohibited stereotyping.” The panel concluded the County’s action was based on a reasonable factor other than age (cost) and that the dismissals were “rationally related to a legitimate state interest” (saving money).
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers to show that discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, color or national origin is a “business necessity” and that no alternatives are available that are less discriminatory.
Under the ADEA, it doesn’t matter if there are less discriminatory alternatives available. The panel recognized the County might have found a “more sensitive solution to its problem” than firing the 20 workers but concluded “that does not change the bottom line result in this ADEA case…”
With respect to the plaintiff’s equal protection claim, the panel said age-based distinctions – unlike distinctions based on race, sex and religion – are subject to “rational basis review, the most deferential form of judicial scrutiny. ” The panel concluded the County’s choice to fire the workers “was rational; the Constitution requires nothing more.”
Past U.S. Supreme Court rulings legalizing the unequal treatment of age discrimination victims are outdated, ignorant and wrong, just like past rulings (now overturned) that legalized race and sex discrimination.
The 7th Circuit panel ignored the central question of why age discrimination is deemed less serious than other forms of employment discrimination. Like other forms of discrimination, age discrimination is based on fear, animus and false stereotypes.
The case is Aaron Carson v. Lake County, Indiana, No. 16-3665 (7th Cir. 2017).