The United States Supreme Court declined to overturn a $1.3 million jury verdict in an age discrimination case from the federal district court in Massachusetts (Rinsky v. Cushman & Wakefield, Case No. 1:16-cv-10403-ADB (D. Mass.)).
The employer in the case, Cushman & Wakefield, petitioned the Supreme Court to take the case by arguing that the lower court had made several errors, including:
- the local law claim under the New York City Human Rights Law should not have applied in this case; and
- the award of punitive damages should have been governed by the higher legal burden of “clear and convincing evidence” rather than a “preponderance of evidence”
Ultimately, the Supreme Court decided not to review the case, which means that the $1.3 million verdict stands. The plaintiff, Yury Rinsky, worked as a systems analyst and software engineer. He was 63 years old at the time his employment terminated and asserted that Cushman & Wakefield fired him because of his age. The jury ultimately agreed with Rinsky’s claim and returned a verdict in his favor. The Supreme Court petition is available here.
How do you prove age discrimination/ADEA claims?
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and related state laws prohibit discrimination against older employees. To prove an initial (prima facie) case of intentional age discrimination in a selection decision, the employee must show:
- that they belong to a protected class
- that they applied for and were qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants
- that despite their qualifications they were rejected
- that the position remained open after their rejection and the employer continued to seek applicants similar to their qualifications.
A defendant must then show a legitimate reason for the taking the employment action. In response, a plaintiff can show by preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reason, but were a pretext for discrimination.
Approximately 1 in 5 discrimination charges received by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are age discrimination claims, and in 2017 the EEOC received over 18,000 age discrimination charges.
As this Supreme Court term continues, the employment law docket bears watching as a number of important issues will be taken up by the highest court in the country.