Feb 12, 2021
AARP, AARP Foundation and NELA Urge U.S. Court of Appeals to Reverse “Sole Cause” Decision that Threatens Older Workers

WASHINGTON—AARP, AARP Foundation and the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) are urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to reverse an appeals court ruling in an age discrimination lawsuit, Pelcha v. MW Bancorp, Inc. The appeals court ruling could have far reaching implications that would make it even more difficult for older workers to prove claims of illegal age discrimination.

Melanie Pelcha, a former Ohio bank teller dismissed at age 47, disputes the three-judge Court of Appeals panel’s decision that in order to prevail in her civil rights case, she had to prove that age was the “sole cause” of her termination. This ruling will make it harder to enforce longstanding protections under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which covers workers age 40 and over.

“Too many older workers have been victims of age discrimination and are denied a fair shake in our justice system. Placing the burden on older workers to show age discrimination as the sole cause of an adverse employment decision would make it nearly impossible to prove illegal bias based on age,” said AARP Foundation Senior Vice President for Litigation William Alvarado Rivera. “Age should play no role in any employment decision. If this legal error is not corrected, we fear it may be replicated in other courts across the country – erasing decades of progress made against age discrimination in the workplace.”
 

According to the brief:

“The danger posed by the panel’s embrace of an elevated ADEA proof standard is severe, as all ADEA disparate treatment cases require plaintiffs to show but-for causation due to age. Thus, if a defendant employer can “avoid liability just by citing some other factor that contributed to its challenged employment decision,” Bostock, 140 S. Ct. at 1739, many more ADEA plaintiffs will lose despite evidence of bias strong enough that it would suffice if it supported a race or sex or disability bias claim. Other worthy plaintiffs will be forced to settle their claims on the cheap. Worst of all, still other valid claimants will be deterred from asserting their rights altogether or will be unable to procure legal representation due to the elevated risks posed by having to prove age as a ‘sole cause.’”
 

Read the full amicus brief here.

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About AARP
AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation's largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit www.aarp.orgwww.aarp.org/espanol or follow @AARP, @AARPenEspanol and @AARPadvocates, @AliadosAdelante on social media.​

About AARP Foundation
AARP Foundation works to end senior poverty by helping vulnerable people over 50 achieve economic security and break down systemic barriers created by discrimination. As AARP’s charitable affiliate, we serve AARP members and nonmembers alike. Through vigorous legal advocacy and evidence-based solutions, and by building supportive community connections, we foster resilience, advance equity and restore hope. To learn more, visit www.aarpfoundation.org or follow @AARPFoundation on social media.

About the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA)
Founded in 1985, the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) is the nation’s largest bar association whose 2,000 members exclusively or primarily represent workers to ensure the preservation of their rights. The organization provides continuing legal education, works to ensure a fair judiciary, and advocates for laws and policies that promote justice for workers. NELA members have represented tens of thousands of individuals who have experienced injustice in the workplace, including discrimination, harassment, and wage theft.

For further information: AARP External Relations, media@aarp.org, 202-434-2560