544 U.S. 228 (2005), 03-1160, Smith v. City of Jackson

Docket Nº:No. 03-1160
Citation:544 U.S. 228, 125 S.Ct. 1536, 161 L.Ed.2d 410, 73 U.S.L.W. 4251
Party Name:AZEL P. SMITH, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. CITY OF JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI, ET AL.
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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544 U.S. 228 (2005)

125 S.Ct. 1536, 161 L.Ed.2d 410, 73 U.S.L.W. 4251

AZEL P. SMITH, ET AL., PETITIONERS

v.

CITY OF JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI, ET AL.

No. 03-1160

United States Supreme Court

March 30, 2005

Argued November 3, 2004

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

In revising its employee pay plan, respondent City granted raises to all police officers and police dispatchers in an attempt to bring their starting salaries up to the regional average. Officers with less than five years'service received proportionately greater raises than those with more seniority, and most officers over 40 had more than five years of service. Petitioners, a group of older officers, filed suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), claiming, inter alia, that they were adversely affected by the plan because of their age. The District Court granted the City summary judgment. Affirming, the Fifth Circuit ruled that disparate-impact claims are categorically unavailable under the ADEA, but it assumed that the facts alleged by petitioners would entitle them to relief under Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, which announced a disparate-impact theory of recovery for cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

351 F.3d 183, affirmed.

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and IV, concluding:

1. The ADEA authorizes recovery in disparate-impact cases comparable to Griggs. Except for the substitution of "age" for "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin," the language of ADEA §4(a)(2) and Title VII §703(a)(2) is identical. Unlike Title VII, however, ADEA §4(f)(1) significantly narrows its coverage by permitting any "otherwise prohibited" action "where the differentiation is based on reasonable factors other than age" (hereinafter RFOA provision). Pp.232-233.

2. Petitioners have not set forth a valid disparate-impact claim. Two textual differences between the ADEA and Title VII make clear that the disparate-impact theory's scope is narrower under the ADEA than under Title VII. One is the RFOA provision. The other is the amendment to Title VII in the Civil Right Act of 1991, which modified this Court's Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio, 490 U.S. 642, holding that narrowly construed the scope of liability on a disparate-impact theory. Because the relevant 1991 amendments expanded Title VII's coverage

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but did not amend the ADEA or speak to age discrimination, Wards Cove's pre-1991 interpretation of Title VII's identical language remains applicable to the ADEA. Congress' decision to limit the ADEA’s coverage by including the RFOA provision is consistent with the fact that age, unlike Title VII's protected classifications, not uncommonly has relevance to an individual's capacity to engage in certain types of employment. Here, petitioners have done little more than point out that the pay plan is relatively less generous to older workers than to younger ones. They have not, as required by Wards Cove, identified any specific test, requirement, or practice within the pay plan that has an adverse impact on older workers. Further, the record makes clear that the City's plan was based on reasonable factors other than age. The City's explanation for the differential between older and younger workers was its perceived need to make junior officers' salaries competitive with comparable positions in the market. Thus, the disparate impact was attributable to the City's decision to give raises based on seniority and position. Reliance on these factors is unquestionably reasonable given the City's goal. Pp. 240-243.

Justice Stevens, joined by Justice Souter, Justice Ginsburg, and JUSTICE BREYER, concluded in Part III that the ADEA’s text, the RFOA provision, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations all support the conclusion that a disparate-impact theory is cognizable under the ADEA. Pp. 233-240.

JUSTICE SCALIA concluded that the reasoning in Part III of JUSTICE STEVENS' opinion is a basis for deferring, pursuant to Chevron U.S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, to the EEOC's reasonable view that the ADEA authorizes disparate-impact claims. Pp. 243-247.

Justice O'Connor, joined by Justice Kennedy and Justice Thomas, concluded that the judgment should be affirmed on the ground that disparate impact claims are not cognizable under the ADEA. Pp. 247-268.

STEVENS, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and IV, in which SCALIA, SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part III, in which SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 243. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which KENNEDY and THOMAS, JJ., joined, post, p. 247. REHNQUIST, C. J., took no part in the decision of the case.

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Thomas C. Goldstein argued the cause for petitioners.With him on the briefs were Amy Howe, Pamela S. Karlan,and Dennis L. Horn.

Glen D. Nager argued the cause for respondents. Withhim on the brief were Michael A. Carvin, Louis K. Fisher,Terry Wallace, and Samuel L. Begley[*]

Justice Stevens announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and IV, and an opinion with respect to Part III, in which JUSTICE SOUTER, JUSTICE GINSBURG, and Justice Breyer join.

Petitioners, police and public safety officers employed by the city of Jackson, Mississippi (hereinafter City), contend that salary increases received in 1999 violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) because they were less generous to officers over the age of 40 than to younger officers. Their suit raises the question whether the "disparate-impact" theory of recovery announced in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971), for cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is cognizable under the ADEA. Despite the age of the ADEA, it is a question that we have not yet addressed.

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See Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins, 507 U.S. 604, 610 (1993); Markham v. Geller, 451 U.S. 945 (1981) (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari).

I

On October 1, 1998, the City adopted a pay plan granting raises to all City employees. The stated purpose of the plan was to "attract and retain qualified people, provide incentive for performance, maintain competitiveness with other public sector agencies and ensure equitable compensation to all employees regardless of age, sex, race and/or disability."1 On May 1, 1999, a revision of the plan, which was motivated, at least in part, by the City's desire to bring the starting salaries of police officers up to the regional average, granted raises to all police officers and police dispatchers. Those who had less than five years of tenure received proportionately greater raises when compared to their former pay than those with more seniority. Although some officers over the age of 40 had less than five years of service, most of the older officers had more.

Petitioners are a group of older officers who filed suit under the ADEA claiming both that the City deliberately discriminated against them because of their age (the "disparate-treatment" claim) and that they were "adversely affected" by the plan because of their age (the "disparate-impact" claim). The District Court granted summary judgment to the City on both claims. The Court of Appeals held that the ruling on the former claim was premature because petitioners were entitled to further discovery on the issue of intent, but it affirmed the dismissal of the disparate-impact claim. 351 F.3d 183 (CA5 2003). Over one judge's dissent, the majority concluded that disparate-impact claims are categorically unavailable under the ADEA. Both the majority and the dissent assumed that the facts alleged by petitioners would entitle them to relief under the reasoning of Griggs.

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We granted the officers' petition for certiorari, 541 U.S. 958(2004), and now hold that the ADEA does authorize recovery in "disparate-impact" cases comparable to Griggs. Because, however, we conclude that petitioners have not set forth a valid disparate-imp act claim, we affirm.

II

During the deliberations that preceded the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress considered and rejected proposed amendments that would have included older workers among the classes protected from employment discrimination.2 General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 540 U.S. 581, 587 (2004). Congress did, however, request the Secretary of Labor to "make a full and complete study of the factors which might tend to result in discrimination in employment because of age and of the consequences of such discrimination on the economy and individuals affected." §715, 78 Stat. 265. The Secretary's report, submitted in response to Congress' request, noted that there was little discrimination arising from dislike or intolerance of older people, but that "arbitrary" discrimination did result from certain age limits. Report of the Secretary of Labor, The Older American Worker: Age Discrimination in Employment 22 (June 1965), reprinted in U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Legislative History of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1981) (hereinafter Wirtz Report). Moreover, the report observed that discriminatory effects resulted from "[i]nstitutional arrangements that indirectly restrict the employment of older workers." Id., at 15.

In response to that report Congress directed the Secretary to propose remedial legislation, see Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1966, Pub. L. 89-601, §606, 80 Stat. 845, and

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