Crime & Justice

Supreme Court Hands Federal Worker Partial Win In Age Discrimination Case

The Supreme Court ruled in cases involving age discrimination and traffic stops.
The Supreme Court ruled in cases involving age discrimination and traffic stops.
Mark Sherman/AP

The U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8-1 ruling, made it relatively easier for federal workers to prove allegations of age discrimination.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, noted that federal law "demands that personnel actions be untainted by any consideration of age." So if age were a factor here as alleged, the process was not free from discrimination. But, he said, the relief available to individuals who have been discriminated against may be different, depending on the circumstances. If age discrimination was one of the factors during the process, but not the only factor, then employees are not entitled to damages and back pay, but they are entitled to prospective relief, like eligibility for a promotional exam, or for a job promotion.

At issue is the case of Noris Babb, a clinical pharmacist who worked for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bay Pines, Fla., for 16 years. In that time, she qualified to practice disease management, saw patients and prescribed medication without consulting a physician. And she had received consistently high marks for performance, according to her lawyers.

Yet Babb says that beginning about 10 years ago, when she was in her late 40s, she and other women older than 45 found they were not getting newly classified advanced positions that paid more money. Instead, the women said, those jobs went to people in their 30s, most of them men.

Several of those women filed their own complaints against the VA, which Babb supported. As a result, she alleges in her own suit, the VA retaliated against her.

Justice Thomas dissented in Monday's ruling, writing that under the majority's opinion, "a plaintiff could bring a cause of action even if he is ultimately promoted or hired over a younger applicant."

Warrantless traffic stop case

In a separate opinion, the court, in an 8-1 ruling, upheld a warrantless traffic stop by a sheriff's deputy in Kansas who based the stop on the assumption that the driver, defendant Charlie Glover, owned the car; Glover was driving with a suspended license.

"We hold that when the officer lacks information negating an inference that the owner is the driver of the vehicle, the stop is reasonable," Thomas wrote in the majority opinion.

The Kansas Supreme Court had previously ruled that when a driver has committed no infractions, police need something more than an assumption in order to have a reasonable suspicion that the driver is the owner and is driving without a license.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, arguing that in "upholding routine stops of vehicles whose owners have revoked licenses, the Court ignores key foundations of our reasonable-suspicion jurisprudence and impermissibly and unnecessarily reduces the State's burden of proof."

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