Smith v. City of Jackson
125 S.Ct. 1536 (2005)

Facts:
The City of Jackson granted raises to all of its police officers. In an attempt to bring the starting salaries up to the regional average, officers with less than five years’ service received larger raises than those with more seniority.

  • An ADEA suit was then brought because the salary increases were less generous to officers over the age of 40 than to younger officers.

History:

  • The District granted summary judgment for the City.
  • The Court of Appeals affirmed, but also held that disparate-impact claims were categorically unavailable under the ADEA.

Issue:
Whether the “disparate-impact” theory of recovery for cases brought under Title VII is cognizable under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

Holding:
Yes. Nonetheless, affirmed.

Reasoning:
The ADEA does authorize disparate-impact claims:

  • Except for substitution of the word “age,” the language of the ADEA is identical to that found in Title VII.
    • Thus it is appropriate to presume that Congress intended that text to have the same meaning in both statutes.
    • Furthermore, the text focuses on the effects of the action on the employee rather than the motivation for the action of the employer.
  • Note, however, that the scope of disparate impact liability under the ADEA is narrower than under Title VII for two reasons:
    1. The ROFA Provision: This provision of the Act permits “otherwise prohibited” action “where the differentiation is based on reasonable factors other than age.”
    2. Because the relevant 1991 amendments that expanded Title VII’s coverage 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.

The plaintiffs failed to set forth a prima facie case:

  • “They have not identified any specific test, requirement, or practice within the pay plan that has an adverse impact on older workers. As we held in Wards Cove, it is not enough to simply allege that there is a disparate impact on workers, or point to a generalized policy that leads to such an impact. Rather, the employee is responsible for isolating and identifying the specific employment practices that are allegedly responsible for any observed statistical disparities.”
  • Additionally, it is also clear from the record that the City’s plan was based on reasonable factors other than age – i.e., its purpose was to bring salaries in line with that of surrounding police forces.

Rule: Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) authorizes disparate-impact claims, but its scope is narrower.