A Close Look at ADEA Mixed-Motives Claims and Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc.
In Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court held that a plaintiff bringing a claim for disparate treatment under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) could not shift the burden of persuasion to the defendant, even after the plaintiff had established that age was a motivating factor in the defendant’s adverse employment decision. Prior to Gross, ADEA plaintiffs had two available frameworks to prove claims for intentional age discrimination: the three-prong McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green framework that creates an inference of discrimination using a prima facie case, and the burden-shifting, “mixed-motives” analysis laid out in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, which the Gross Court rejected for ADEA plaintiffs. This Note urges Congress to intervene and amend the ADEA to be consistent with the burden-shifting framework codified in § 107 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. This Note explores the purposes behind the ADEA, including its relationship with Title VII, and looks at Supreme Court cases that shaped the analysis of disparate treatment discrimination claims prior to Gross. This Note explores the majority and dissenting opinions in Gross and how subsequent courts have treated ADEA cases in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. Ultimately, this Note concludes that Gross does not necessarily alter the McDonnell Douglas framework for ADEA plaintiffs, but that Congress should step in and amend the ADEA so that plaintiffs may bring mixed-motives claims. If Congress were to amend the ADEA in this way, the causation standards under Title VII and the ADEA would be identical and the ADEA’s goals of deterring discrimination and compensating victims would be fulfilled.