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U.S. Supreme Court Finds ADEA Protects Federal Workers' Right To Bring A Retaliation Claim

On May 27, the U.S. Supreme Court found, by a 6-3 majority, that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits retaliation against federal employees who have filed ADEA bias complaints, even though the statute does not include an express prohibition against retaliation. See Gomez-Perez v. Potter, U.S., No. 06-1321, 5/27/08.


The case was brought by Myrna Gomez-Perez, a U.S. postal worker who filed an ADEA complaint with the Postal Service. She later alleged that her filing caused postal managers to engage in various forms of retaliation, including reducing her working hours and making false accusations that she sexually harassed other employees. She eventually filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico wherein she included an allegation that the retaliatory actions she described violated Section 15 of the ADEA, found at 29 U.S.C. § 633a, which prohibits "discrimination based on age."


The district court granted summary judgment to the employer, and the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the ADEA did not provide a statutory remedy for federal employees claiming that they experienced retaliation for filing ADEA complaints. In overturning the conclusions of the two lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court relied on several factors.


The Supreme Court noted that the ADEA was enacted in 1967, but originally covered only private sector workers. Provisions covering federal sector employees were not added to the statute until 1974. Although the ADEA provision barring discrimination against federal employees did not mention retaliation, Justice Alito found that the Supreme Court had interpreted similar language in other anti-discrimination statutes to imply the existence of a prohibition on retaliation.


Predictably, the Solicitor General arguing for the U.S. Postal Service contended that "the strong presumption is that [the] omission reflects that Congress acted intentionally and purposely in including such language in Section 623 of the Act and excluding it from Section 633a." But Alito said that the Government's argument was undermined by the seven-year gap between the enactment of the private sector provision and the protection for federal employees. Alito also found that the federal sector provision was patterned on the federal sector protections of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which does provide for a cause of action for retaliation.


This decision represents a significant victory for federal employees, giving them the same protection against retaliation that has been afforded to workers in the private sector.


If the high court had ruled against Gomez-Perez, federal employees might have retained the right to pursue administrative claims of retaliation, but such a limited right would not have been as valuable as the right to pursue a retaliation claim in court.


If you have any questions regarding this, or any other legal issue, please feel free to contact a member of Greenebaum's Labor and Employment Practice Group.



This communication is provided as general information rather than legal advice. Questions about individual situations should be addressed to the attorney of your choice. The regulations governing legal advertising in the states of Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee require that communications of this kind contain the following statement: THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT. Kentucky law does not certify specialties of practice.

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