[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] was urged Wednesday to adopt measures [hearing materials; recorded video] to address recent Supreme Court decisions interpreting the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act [text]. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] expressed concern [testimony] that protections put in place by the ADEA would be undermined by the Court's June decision in Gross v. FBL Financial Services [JURIST report], which found that age must be the "but for" cause of dismissal in order to prove discrimination. Leahy said that the decision may allow employers to dismiss older workers "so long as they cloak it with other reasons." Pennsylvania State University law professor Michael Foreman told the committee [testimony, PDF] that the decision:
requires employees who are victims of age discrimination to meet a higher burden of proof than someone alleging discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, or national origin under Title VII. This result runs contrary to our national commitment to equality. Congress should thus take positive steps to ensure that our civil rights and employment laws protect all American workers.
However, employment lawyer Michael Fox said that the Gross decision was consistent [testimony, PDF] with the adoption of the ADEA independent of the more liberal Title VII [text] rules addressing race and gender and that Congress "meant from the beginning [for] the enforcement mechanisms of the two statutes [to be] dramatically different." The committee also addressed the Court's 2001 decision in Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams [opinion text], which validated the use of binding arbitration provisions in pre-employment contracts. Leahy said that when Congress enacted the Federal Arbitration Act [text], it meant to provide sophisticated businesses with an alternative dispute mechanism, and "never intended this law to become a hammer for corporations to use against their employees." Council for Employment Law Equity Mark de Bernardo disagreed [testimony, PDF], saying that arbitration is an "alternative to costly, time-consuming, deleterious, and relationship-destructive litigation" which has been supported by both management and organized labor.
In January, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 [JURIST report], which extended the deadline for employees to sue their employers for unequal pay discrimination, and effectively overturned the Supreme Court's ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. The initial lawsuit was brought by Lilly Ledbetter, a 19-year Goodyear employee, who alleged that she received less pay than male counterparts because of gender discrimination. The Supreme Court upheld the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit's reversal [opinion, PDF] of a district court decision awarding Ledbetter $360,000 in damages.