Smith v. City of Jackson, Mississippi

PETITIONER: Azel P. Smith, et al.
RESPONDENT: City of Jackson, Mississippi, et al.
LOCATION: Texas State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 03-1160
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 544 US 228 (2005)
GRANTED: Mar 29, 2004
ARGUED: Nov 03, 2004
DECIDED: Mar 30, 2005

ADVOCATES:
Daniel B. Kohrman - for AARP et al. as amici curiae
Glen D. Nager - argued the cause for Respondents
Laurie A. McCann - for AARP et al. as amici curiae
Melvin Radowitz - for AARP et al. as amici curiae
Thomas C. Goldstein - argued the cause for Petitioners

Facts of the case

Azel Smith and group of other police department employees over the age of 40 sued Jackson, Mississippi, and the city police department in federal district court. The group alleged the department salary plan violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which banned employers from engaging in age discrimination. The department plan gave officers with five or fewer years of tenure with the department larger raises than those with more than five years of tenure. The group made a "disparate impact" claim under the ADEA, arguing the department and city unintentionally engaged in age discrimination. The federal district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled disparate impact claims could not be made under the ADEA. Other federal appeals courts ruled to the contrary.

Question

Can a disparate impact claim - a claim alleging unintentional discrimination - be made under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)?

Media for Smith v. City of Jackson, Mississippi

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 03, 2004 in Smith v. City of Jackson, Mississippi

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 30, 2005 in Smith v. City of Jackson, Mississippi

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in Smith versus the City of Jackson will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

Petitioners, Police and Public Safety Officers employed by the City of Jackson, Mississippi, contend that salary increases received in 1999 violated the Age Discrimination and Employment Act of 1967, which we refer to as the ADEA, because they were less generous to officers over the age of 40 than to younger officers.

Their suit raises the question whether the so-called disparate impact theory of liability that we have recognized in cases brought in under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is also cognizably under the ADEA.

Under that theory, the legality of a discriminatory practice depends on its effect on the disfavored employees rather than the intent of the employer.

A majority of the court has concluded that the ADEA does authorize recovery on a disparate impact theory.

The opinion that I have authored, which is joined in full by Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, relies primarily on the text of the statute and the fact that we have interpreted identical statutory language in Title VII to authorize that result.

Justice Scalia has joined all but part three of our opinion and has filed a separate opinion that endorses our reasoning but relies primarily on the so-called chevron deference owed to the views of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Justice O’Connor has filed an opinion which is joined by Justice Kennedy and Justice Thomas expressing the view that the disparate impact theory is categorically unavailable in AEDA cases.

We do, however, unanimously agree that the pay plan at issue in this case represents an entirely reasonable attempt to bring the officers’ salaries up to a level that matches those in surrounding communities in order to meet the city’s legitimate goal of retaining police officers.

Accordingly, while the court rejects the Court of Appeals conclusion that disparate impact theory of recovery is never available under the AEDA.

We affirm its judgment.

The Chief Justice took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.