Supreme Court Reinforces Federal Sector Age Discrimination Remedies


5/27/08: NTEU today welcomed a Supreme Court decision extending to federal employees the same protections against retaliation for alleging age discrimination as are presently enjoyed by private sector workers. NTEU filed an amicus brief in the case arguing for just such a decision.

In a 6-3 decision involving a Postal Service employee, the Court supported a broad reading of the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which was extended to the federal workforce in 1974. It rejected arguments that the exclusive remedies from such retaliation for federal employees are contained in the Civil Service Reform Act.

The Court ruled the federal sector language of the ADEA prohibiting “discrimination based on age” forbids retaliation for filing age discrimination complaints just as it prohibits age discrimination itself.

“This decision is a very welcome departure from a court that is often conservative with respect to federal employee rights,” said NTEU National President Colleen M. Kelley. NTEU had provided expert assistance to the attorneys representing the plaintiff in this case, and filed a friend-of-the-court brief warning of the gaps in employee protections against retaliation that would exist if the ADEA were to be narrowly construed.

The plaintiff in this case was 45 years of age when she alleged she was being discriminated against because of her age; the ADEA prohibits age discrimination against those 40 years and older. After she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the plaintiff said she suffered various reprisals from her supervisors. A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s dismissal of her suit, but the Supreme Court overturned that decision.

Along with First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, and expansive whistleblower rights, this is the kind of workplace protection NTEU is well-known for pursuing vigorously. “Without the ability to be free from management retaliation,” President Kelley said, “a variety of workplace rights would be severely undercut, if not made moot entirely.”