Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc.

PETITIONER: Jack Gross
RESPONDENT: FBL Financial Services, Inc.
LOCATION: FBL Financial Services

DOCKET NO.: 08-441
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 557 US (2009)
GRANTED: Dec 05, 2008
ARGUED: Mar 31, 2009
DECIDED: Jun 18, 2009

ADVOCATES:
Carter G. Phillips - argued the cause for the respondent
Eric Schnapper - argued the cause for the petitioner
Lisa Schiavo Blatt -

Facts of the case

In April 2004, Jack Gross sued FBL Financial Services, Inc. (FBL) under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) alleging he was demoted because of his age. A federal district court in Iowa found in his favor and awarded him $46, 945.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed and ordered a new trial. The court held that the jury instruction in Mr. Gross' case was improper. It reasoned that since Mr. Gross never submitted direct evidence that age was a motivating factor in his demotion, he was not entitled to a jury instruction that put the burden of persuasion upon FBL to show that it would have demoted him regardless of his age.

Question

Does a plaintiff need to submit direct evidence of discrimination in a suit filed under the ADEA in order to shift the burden of persuasion to the defendant?

Media for Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 31, 2009 in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 18, 2009 in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Thomas has the opinion this morning in case 08-441, Gross versus FBL Financial Services which he has asked me to announce.

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Petitioner filed suit alleging that respondent demoted him in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1976 which we will call ADEA.

That Act makes it unlawful for an employer to take an adverse action against an employee “because of such individuals age.”

At the close of trial, the District Court instructed the jury to enter a verdict for petitioner if he proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he was demoted and that his age was a “motivating factor” in the decision to demote him.

The District Court also instructed the jury to return the verdict for respondent if respondent proved that it would have demoted petitioner regardless of his age.

The jury returned a verdict for petitioner.

The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded for a new trial.

It held that the jury instructions were incorrect under the standard established by this Court in a case called Price Waterhouse versus Hopkins.

Price Waterhouse involved the claim brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that an adverse employment action was the result of both permissible and impermissible considerations, that's the claim Price Waterhouse involved is so called “mixed-motives” case.

In an opinion filed with the clerk to day, we vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Because Title VII is materially different from the ADEA with respect to the relevant burden of persuasion, this Court's interpretation of the ADEA is not governed by Title VII decisions such as Price Waterhouse.

This Court has never applied Title VII's burden-shifting framework for alleged mixed-motives claims to the ADEA and we decline to do so now.

Title VII has been amended to explicitly authorize discrimination claims where an improper consideration was a “motivating factor” for the adverse action.

In contrast, the ADEA does not similarly provide that a plaintiff may establish discrimination by showing that age was simply a motivating factor.

As a result, the Court's interpretation of the ADEA is not governed by interpretation of Title VII in Price Waterhouse.

Our inquiry instead must focus on the text of the ADEA to decide whether it authorizes an alleged mixed-motives age discrimination claim.

It does not.

The ordinary meaning of the ADEA's requirement that an employer took adverse action “because of” age is that age was the reason that the employer acted.

To establish a disparate-treatment claim then, a plaintiff retains the burden of persuasion to establish that age was the “but-for” cause of the employer's adverse decision.

This Court has previously held this to be the proper allocation of the burden of persuasion in ADEA cases and nothing in the statute's text indicates that Congress has carved out an exception for a particular subset of ADEA claims.

Hence, the burden of persuasion is the same in an alleged mixed-motives age discrimination case as in any other ADEA disparate-treatment action.

A plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence which maybe direct or circumstantial that age was the “but-for” cause of the challenged employer decision.

We vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer have joined.

Justice Breyer also has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Souter and Ginsburg have joined.