Smith v. City of Jackson

544 U.S. 228, 125 S. Ct. 1536 (2005)



An employee bringing a disparate impact claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U.S.C.S. § 621 et seq., is responsible for isolating and identifying the specific employment practices that are allegedly responsible for any observed statistical disparities. It is not enough to simply allege that there is a disparate impact on older workers, or point to a generalized policy that leads to such an impact.


In revising its employee pay plan, respondent City granted raises to all police officers and police dispatchers in an attempt to bring their starting salaries up to the regional average. Officers with less than five years' service received proportionately greater raises than those with more seniority, and most officers over 40 had more than five years of service. Petitioners, a group of older officers, filed suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), claiming, inter alia, that they were adversely affected by the plan because of their age. The District Court granted the City summary judgment. Affirming, the Fifth Circuit ruled that disparate-impact claims are categorically unavailable under the ADEA, but it assumed that the facts alleged by petitioners would entitle them to relief under Griggs v. Duke Power Co.,401 U.S. 424, 28 L. Ed. 2d 158, 91 S. Ct. 849, which announced a disparate-impact theory of recovery for cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).


Whether the "disparate-impact" theory of recovery announced in Griggs for cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is cognizable under the ADEA.




The court concluded that it was error for the Fifth Circuit to hold that the disparate-impact theory of liability was categorically unavailable under the ADEA. Congress' decision to limit the coverage of the ADEA by including 29 U.S.C.S. § 623(f)(1) was consistent with the fact that age, unlike race or other classifications, not uncommonly has relevance to an individual's capacity to engage in certain types of employment. However, the court held that the city's decision to grant a larger raise to lower echelon employees for the purpose of bringing salaries in line with that of surrounding police forces was a decision based on a "reasonable factor other than age" that responded to the city's legitimate goal of retaining police officers.

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