Supreme Court Gives Go-Ahead to Discrimination Case
By Gerri Elder
A recent 7-2 ruling by the Supreme Court found that employees who failed to file the proper form to complain about age discrimination by their employer, FedEx, will be able to go forward with an age discrimination lawsuit.
The ruling came as a surprise, as in the previous term the court ruled 5-4 that employees who claim discrimination in pay would not be able to sue if they had not filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days of a manager's discriminatory pay decision.
The New York Times reports that in the recent 7-2 ruling allowing an age discrimination lawsuit against FedEx, the majority explained that there was a need for a "permissive standard" that would not exclude workers who did not have lawyers and could not be expected to know the specifics of the law on their own.
The Supreme Court decided that the court system must be accessible by everyone, not just people who can afford lawyers or have complete knowledge of the process and legal requirements. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, saying that it was "consistent with the purposes" of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to allow workers to file the initial complaint on a form that was "easy to complete," or even as "an informal document, easy to draft."
Justice Clarence Thomas, former chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Justice Antonin Scalia were the dissenters. Justice Thomas said that the majority had adopted a standard "so malleable that it effectively absolves the E.E.O.C. of its obligation to administer the A.D.E.A. according to discernible standards." He added that the court had employed "utterly vague criteria."
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's position on the case favored the FedEx workers.
The age discrimination law requires that employees file a discrimination charge with The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission first, and then wait 60 days before filing a lawsuit. The 60-day period is required so that the E.E.O.C. can attempt to work out the matter between the employer and the employee.
In this case, the employees made a mistake and filled out an intake questionnaire and filed it with the E.E.O.C. rather than filling out and filing the formal "charge" document. The intake questionnaire was accompanied by an affidavit that described the problem with the employer, Federal Express, and pleaded with the commission to force FedEx to end their age discrimination plan. The employees allege that FedEx has adopted policies with the direct intentions of forcing the older workers out.
The lawsuit filed in 2002 by the FedEx employees was first dismissed by the Federal District Court in Manhattan because the judge found that the document that the workers filed was insufficient. The United States Court of Appeals case for the Second Circuit then reinstated the case. The ruling by the Supreme Court affirmed that decision, so these workers may soon see their day in court against FedEx.