A new ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that makes it easier for older workers to win age-discrimination claims may prove to be a “double-edged sword” for school districts interested in raising the pay of their more-junior teachers, a school law expert said last week.
In a 5-3 ruling on March 30, the court held that workers covered by the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967—those 40 or older—do not need to prove that their employers deliberately intended to harm them to win a claim under the statute.
The decision in Smith v. City of Jackson, Miss. (Case No. 03-1160) came in a lawsuit filed by a group of older police officers who objected to a pay plan that gave larger raises to those on the force for less than five years.
The justices held that the pay policy was legitimate, but that a federal appeals court was wrong when it ruled that the ADEA did not allow suits challenging policies that disproportionately affect older workers even though such policies were not intended to have such disparate impacts.
Lisa Soronen, a staff lawyer for the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va., said the ruling could expose districts to a greater risk from older workers pressing disparate- impact claims, but could also help schools that want to give larger raises to beginning teachers to combat attrition. “This is a big issue for schools,” she said.