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Supreme Court ADEA Decisions*


  • United Air Lines, Inc. v. McMann, 434 U.S. 192 (1977)
    Retirement plan adopted before enactment of the ADEA could not be a subterfuge to evade the law, and came within the ADEA's § 4(f)(2) defense for bona fide employee benefit plans.


  • Lorillard v. Pons, 434 U.S. 575 (1978) (unanimous)
    The parties to an ADEA action have the right to a jury trial because the ADEA incorporated the FLSA provision authorizing "legal" relief.


  • Oscar Mayer & Co. v. Evans, 441 U.S. 750 (1979)
    If the state has a fair-employment-practice agency, an ADEA plaintiff must file a complaint with that agency before suing, but that complaint need not be timely under state law.


  • Lehman v. Nakshian, 453 U.S. 156 (1981)
    When Congress amended the ADEA in 1974 to protect federal employees, it allowed federal employees to sue the federal government but did not give them the right to a jury trial.


  • EEOC v. Wyoming, 460 U.S. 226 (1983)
    The 1974 extension of the ADEA to state and local governments was a valid exercise of Congress's powers under the Commerce Clause.


  • Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U.S. 111 (1985) (unanimous)
    The McDonnell Douglas test is irrelevant where the plaintiff presents direct evidence of discrimination; the standard for willful violations is whether the employer knew or showed reckless disregard for whether its conduct was prohibited by the ADEA. The EEOC intervened to join as a party in the case.
  • Johnson v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 472 U.S. 353 (1985) (unanimous)
    A state-government employer must establish that its mandatory retirement age for firefighters is a bona fide occupational qualification and cannot rely on the federal provision permitting mandatory retirement of federal firefighters at age 55.
  • Western Air Lines, Inc. v. Criswell, 472 U.S. 400 (1985) (unanimous)
    An airline defending a mandatory retirement age as a bona fide occupational qualification must show that that age is a legitimate proxy for appropriate job qualifications either because no persons over that age are qualified or because it is impossible or highly impractical to assess the fitness of employees over that age on an individual basis.


  • Public Employees Retirement System v. Betts, 492 U.S. 158 (1989)
    Invalidated the EEOC's regulation defining "subterfuge"; held that the ADEA prohibits only those employee benefit plans that were designed to discriminate in the non-fringe-benefits aspects of employment, superseded by the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990.
  • Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165 (1989)
    District courts have discretion to facilitate notice to potential plaintiffs in ADEA collective actions under § 626(b).


  • Stevens v. Department of the Treasury, 500 U.S. 1 (1991)
    A federal employee can sue his agency under the ADEA without first going through the agency's EEO process, but she must first notify the EEOC of her intent to sue within 180 days of the discrimination and at least 30 days before suing.
  • Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U.S. 20 (1991)
    Mandatory arbitration agreements are enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act with respect to ADEA claims.
  • Astoria Federal Savings & Loan Ass'n v. Solimino, 501 U.S. 104 (1991) (unanimous)
    If the state fair-employment-practice agency finds no discrimination but that finding is not reviewed by a state court, the finding does not preclude the employee from suing in federal court.
  • Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452 (1991)
    The plaintiffs, appointed state judges, were "appointees on a policymaking level" under ADEA § 11(f), 29 U.S.C. § 630(f), and therefore were not protected from age discrimination by the ADEA.


  • Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins, 507 U.S. 604 (1993)
    Held that the plaintiff must show that age "played a role" in, and "had a determinative influence" on the employer's decision; clarified framework for analyzing a factor that is a proxy for age; affirmed Thurston's "knowledge or reckless disregard standard" for awards of liquidated damages in cases involving "informal decisions" by employers.


  • McKennon v. Nashville Banner Publishing Co., 513 U.S. 352 (1995) (unanimous)
    If the employer violated the ADEA in firing the plaintiff and the employer later learned of facts that it can show would have caused the employer to fire the plaintiff lawfully, the plaintiff cannot secure reinstatement or front pay; the plaintiff may still obtain back pay, but only until the employer discovered the after-acquired evidence.
  • Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Schleier, 515 U.S. 323 (1995)
    Amounts received by taxpayer as back wages in settlement of ADEA claims are not excludable from gross income; ADEA liquidated damages are punitive in nature and therefore also not excludable from gross income.


  • O'Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp., 517 U.S. 308 (1996) (unanimous)
    ADEA plaintiffs need only show that their replacement was substantially younger to establish a prima facie case.
  • Lockheed v. Spink, 517 U.S. 882 (1996)
    ERISA does not prohibit employers from giving additional pension benefits to employees who release their potential employment-related claims; Congress amended ERISA and the ADEA in 1986 to prohibit age-based cessations of benefit accruals and age-based reductions in benefit-accrual rates, but those amendments did not apply retroactively.


  • Oubre v. Entergy Operations, Inc., 522 U.S. 422 (1998)
    A release that did not comply with the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act did not bar the plaintiff's ADEA law suit, even though she had not returned, or offered to return, the money she had received in exchange for the release.


  • Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents, 528 U.S. 62 (2000)
    The ADEA did not validly abrogate the states' Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit by private individuals.
  • Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133 (2000)
    If the plaintiff offered evidence establishing a prima facie case and evidence showing that the employer's articulated reason is pretextual, the jury may find for the plaintiff; the plaintiff is not required to introduce additional evidence to prove pretext.



  • Smith v. City of Jackson, Miss., 544 U.S. 228 (2005)
    The ADEA authorizes disparate-impact claims; a practice having a disparate impact does not violate the ADEA if the employer's decision adopting the practice was based on a "reasonable factor[ ] other than age".


  • Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379 (2008)
    The Court rejected a per se admissibility rule with respect to trial witnesses and recognized the wide discretion of district courts in determining the admissibility of evidence.
  • Federal Express Corp. v. Holowecki, 552 U.S. 389 (2008) (amicus)
    An ADEA charge must include certain basic information and must ask the EEOC to take remedial action on the charging party's behalf; the EEOC's failure to do its duty does not render a charge invalid; here, the plaintiff's intake questionnaire and accompanying affidavit constituted a charge.
  • Gomez-Perez v. Potter, 553 U.S. 474 (2008)
    The ADEA provision barring "discrimination" against federal employees also prohibits retaliation.
  • Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, 554 U.S. 84 (2008)
    If an ADEA plaintiff has offered evidence showing a disparate-impact claim, the employer bears the burden of proving that the non-age factor it relied on was a reasonable one.
  • Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC, 554 U.S. 135 (2008)
    The state's disability-retirement plan did not violate the ADEA: the trigger for less favorable treatment was the employee's pension status, not his age; the plan had a non-age-related purpose and did not rely on stereotypical assumptions; and the EEOC offered no evidence that the differential treatment was actually motivated by age as opposed to pension status.


  • 14 Penn Plaza LLC v Pyett, 556 U.S. 247 (2009)
    The provision in the collective bargaining agreement that clearly and unmistakably required union members to arbitrate their ADEA claims is enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act.
  • Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U.S. 167 (2009)
    An ADEA plaintiff must prove that his age was the but-for cause of the challenged adverse action; the burden of persuasion does not shift to the employer as it does in Title VII mixed-motive cases, even if the plaintiff has offered evidence of age discrimination.

*The Office of the Solicitor General represents the EEOC in the U.S. Supreme Court.