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WASHINGTON--Employers must show that there was a reason other than age discrimination in cases where lay-offs appear to target older workers, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The case--Clifford B. Meacham et al. vs. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory--involved a companywide staff reduction in which 30 of 31 salaried employees fired were 40 years of age or older. In 2000, a jury found that the bias was unintentional, but that the older workers were disproportionately affected by the lay-offs and granted monetary awards to 17 former employees of the lab, which is a unit of Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp.
A panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals initially upheld the award in 2004, but then reversed itself, holding that it had applied the wrong standard to its review.
The Supreme Court reversed the appeals court in a 7-to-1 decision in which Associate Justice Stephen Breyer did not take part. Writing for the majority, Associate Justice David Souter said that an employer defending claims brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act bears the burden of proving that its actions stemmed from reasonable factors other than age.