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Age bias law can't be used against older workers.

A 1967 U.S. law that forbids discriminating against the elderly in favor of the young does not prohibit favoring the old over the young, according to a Supreme Court ruling cheered by many business leaders.

The 6-3 decision in General Dynamics Land Systems v. Cline et al. arose from a 1997 collective bargaining agreement between General Dynamics and the United Auto Workers. The agreement allowed the company to stop providing health benefits to all future retirees except current workers at least 50 years old, who would continue to receive such benefits upon retirement.

Several younger workers sued, claiming the pact violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Congress enacted the ADEA in response to concerns that arbitrary discrimination against older workers, such as company policies imposing age ceilings on hiring, was becoming a serious problem.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed with the younger workers, as did the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that "if Congress had meant to limit [the ADEA's] coverage to protect only the older worker against the younger, it would have said so." But Justice David Souter, speaking for the Supreme Court, said that Congress, by limiting the application of the ADEA to workers between the ages of 40 and 65, did exactly that.

"The [legislative] record ... reflects the common facts that an individual's chances to find and keep a job get worse over time; as between any two people, the younger is in the stronger position, the older more apt to be tagged with demeaning stereotypes. Not surprisingly, from the voluminous records of the hearings, we have found (and Cline has cited) nothing suggesting that any workers were registering complaints about discrimination in favor of their seniors."

In the past year, many large firms have reduced or eliminated health benefits for retirees in response to rising healthcare costs. Business leaders feared that a decision upholding the Sixth Circuit Court's ruling would invalidate such actions.
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Title Annotation:Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
Publication:The Journal of Employee Assistance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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