California law in some cases provides greater protections to workers experiencing discrimination than federal law. However, a recent ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States has reduced the burden somewhat on federal government employees who have suffered age discrimination.

Legal background for rights of older workers

Your rights as an employee at or above the age of 40 arise from the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The act and later amendments established that employers must not use age as a factor when making decisions about promoting, demoting, hiring or firing.

The 8-1 ruling from the Supreme Court applied to federal workers. The decision came from a case involving a woman employed as a clinical pharmacist at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She claimed that her age motivated her employer to deny her training and development opportunities, a promotion and holiday pay. The justices based their decision in her favor on an interpretation of the “but-for cause.”

Influence of the “but-for cause” on age discrimination cases

The attorneys for the Department of Veterans Affairs argued that the ADEA only applied if the plaintiff could show that training and promotion decisions would have favored her “but for” her age. Each decision represents a personnel action, and the plaintiff needed to show that discrimination directly changed the outcome.

The majority of justices, however, chose to view the ADEA more broadly. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority’s opinion, which stated that differential treatment on the basis of age only needed to occur within the decision-making process. If evidence revealed that age discrimination played a part in process, regardless of its impact on the final personnel decisions, then discrimination occurred.

Workplace discrimination cases pose many challenges

Being treated differently at work because of age discrimination may undermine your future income unfairly. Bringing a case against an employer demands that you navigate multiple layers of employment law. The insights of an attorney could increase your understanding of rights under California or federal law.