On January 10, 2017, the Third Circuit ruled in favor of a group of fired employees (“Employees”) over age 50 in an age discrimination suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). Karlo v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC, 849 F.3d 61 (3d Cir. 2017). The Employees sued Pittsburgh Glass Works LLC (“Employer”) claiming that a layoff of 100 workers disproportionately affected employees who were 50 and over. The lower court refused to allow evidence from Employees relating to the disparate impact of a subgroup of those 50 and over because it did not establish any discriminatory effect on the entire class of workers, those 40 and over, and thus was counterproductive to a claim under the ADEA. The Third Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling and found in favor of Employees thus splitting from other circuit courts, which have found that disparate treatment of employees within the protected class is not a viable claim under the ADEA.
The Third Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision because it viewed the practical implications of the case differently, and, more importantly, it had a different interpretation of the text of the ADEA. First, the Court interpreted the ADEA as prohibiting discrimination based on an employee’s age, not on the employee being a member of the protected class of people aged 40 or older. This finding is contrary to the other circuit courts which focused on the ADEA’s protection of a protected class of people aged 40 or older, not the protection of variably aged individuals within that protected class. Second, the Third Circuit found that preventing the protection of individuals within the protected class merely due to policy reasons, such as employer liability, is equivalent to trying to amend the ADEA. Further, the Court asserted that its opinion reflects the desires of Congress as clearly stated in the text of the ADEA to protect those aged 40 and older from age discrimination by employers.