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Babb v. Wilkie

Supreme Court of the United States

January 15, 2020, Argued; April 6, 2020, Decided

No. 18-882.

Opinion

Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court. 1

] The federal-sector provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 88 Stat. 74, 29 U. S. C. §633a(a), provides (with just a few exceptions) that “personnel actions” affecting individuals aged 40 and older “shall be made free from any discrimination based on age.” We are asked to decide whether this provision imposes liability only when age is a “but-for cause” of the personnel action in question.

] We hold that §633a(a) goes further than that. The plain meaning of the critical statutory language (“made free from any discrimination based on age”) demands that personnel actions [**7]  be untainted by any consideration of age. This does not mean that a plaintiff may obtain all forms of  [*439]  relief that are generally available for a violation of §633a(a), including hiring, reinstatement, backpay, and compensatory damages, without showing that a personnel action would have been different if age had not been taken into account. To obtain such relief, a plaintiff must show that age was a but-for cause of the challenged employment decision. But if age discrimination played a lesser part in the decision, other remedies may be appropriate.

Noris Babb, who was born in 1960, is a clinical pharmacist at the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bay Pines, Florida. Babb brought suit in 2014 against the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (hereinafter VA), claiming that she had been subjected to age and sex discrimination, as well as retaliation for engaging in activities protected by federal anti-discrimination law. Only her age-discrimination claims are now before us.

Those claims center on the following personnel actions. First, in 2013, the VA took away Babb’s “advanced scope” designation, which had made her eligible for promotion on the Federal Government’s General Scale from [**8]  a GS-12 to a GS-13. 2 Second, during this same time period, she was denied training opportunities and was passed over for positions in the hospital’s anticoagulation clinic. Third, in 2014, she was placed in a new position, and while her grade was raised to GS-13, her holiday pay was reduced. All these actions, she maintains, involved age discrimination, and in support of her claims, she alleges, among other things, that supervisors made a variety of age-related comments.

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206 L. Ed. 2d 432 *; 2020 U.S. LEXIS 2184 **

NORIS BABB, PETITIONER v. ROBERT WILKIE, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Prior History:  [**1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

Babb v. Sec'y, Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 743 Fed. Appx. 280, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 19450 (11th Cir. Fla., July 16, 2018)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

but-for, personnel action, causation, hiring, default, federal-sector, modifies, differential treatment, employment decision, age discrimination, remedies, score, terms, antidiscrimination, diversity, employees, promotion, agencies, federal government, remedial scheme, adverse action, end result, programs, reasons, impose liability, recruitment, untainted, novel

Business & Corporate Compliance, Discrimination, Age Discrimination, Federal & State Interrelationships, Governments, Federal Government, Employees & Officials, Labor & Employment Law, Discriminatory Employment Practices, Remedies, Legislation, Interpretation, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Remedies, Damages, Backpay & Frontpay, Types of Damages, Compensatory Damages, Civil Procedure