The U.S. Supreme Court opens its new session Oct. 4, but so far, employment issues are taking a back seat to cases ranging from juvenile executions to wine trading. Expect the high court to follow its trend of accepting new employment-law cases as the session rolls along.
One key HR issue it will tackle: whether employees who file age-discrimination lawsuits must prove thatintentionally singled out older workers for unfair treatment.
The case: A group of 30 older police officers claimed that a new city wage scale violated federal age-discrimination law by increasing pay for newer recruits and reducing raises for senior officers. (Smith v. City of Jackson, No. 03-1160) Lower courts tossed out the case, saying the discrimination wasn't intentional. The law doesn't protect employees from neutral policies that might inadvertently affect different age groups, the rulings said.
The Supreme Court ruling will be crucial because many age-bias claims fail because they lack proof that employers intentionally meant to harm older employees. Courts generally have ruled that adverse action taken against older employees, such as mass layoffs, don't violate age-bias law if they don't directly relate to age, even if they have a negative impact on older employees.