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Statutory Interpretation – ADEA

United States Supreme Court

Case Name: Noris Babb v. Robert Wilkie

Case No.: 18-882

Focus: Statutory Interpretation – ADEA

The federal-sector provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 88 Stat. 74, 29 U. S. C. §633a(a), provides (with just a few exceptions) that “personnel actions” affecting individuals aged 40 and older “shall be made free from any discrimination based on age.” We are asked to decide whether this provision imposes liability only when age is a “but-for cause” of the personnel action in question.

We hold that §633a(a) goes further than that. The plain meaning of the critical statutory language (“made free from any discrimination based on age”) demands that personnel actions be untainted by any consideration of age. This does not mean that a plaintiff may obtain all forms of relief that are generally available for a violation of §633a(a), including hiring, reinstatement, backpay, and compensatory damages, without showing that a personnel action would have been different if age had not been taken into account. To obtain such relief, a plaintiff must show that age was a but-for cause of the challenged employment decision. But if age discrimination played a lesser part in the decision, other remedies may be appropriate.

Reversed and remanded

Dissenting: THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Concurring: SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which GINSBURG, J., joined.

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Derek A Hawkins is trademark corporate counsel for Harley-Davidson. Hawkins oversees the prosecution and maintenance of the Harley-Davidson’s international trademark portfolio in emerging markets.

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