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Age Discrimination in Employment Act 1967

As the 1960s progressed, public policy continued to focus on addressing economic and social justice concerns by expanding legislation to other discriminated groups. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) 1967 was passed to limit the imposition of arbitrary age limits in employment decisions; now, decisions have to be based on ability and not age (Gutman et al., 2011; Rothenberg & Gardner, 2011). ADEA specifically prohibited private and public employers from discriminating against individuals over the age of 40 years on the basis of their age (Bellenger & Yusko, 2015).

Griggs v. Duke Power Company (1971)

The first real test of the Act came when the Supreme Court heard Griggs v. Duke Power Company in 1970 (Outtz, 2011). All the African-American employees at Duke Power Company were restricted to working in the labour department. After the passing of the Act, the company instituted new requirements for transfers and new hires. Those employees looking to transfer from the labour department to another department in Duke Power Company had to have a high school diploma. Employees without a diploma had to pass two aptitude tests in order to transfer. Furthermore, new employees who applied to work in a department outside of labour also had to pass the same two aptitude tests (Hanges et al., 2013; Outtz, 2011).

In their ruling in 1971, the Supreme Court concluded that African-Americans were discriminated against as a result of these new testing policies. Specifically, they determined that the manner in which an employment opportunity is offered to candidates must be usable on equal terms by individuals from all groups. This was a major victory for civil rights advocates. The lower courts had found the test requirements to be acceptable as there was no intent to discriminate against minorities. However, the Supreme Court’s ruling demonstrated that the intent of the test is irrelevant. Rather, if the requirements for a job cannot be shown to be job-related and they negatively impact the hiring of minorities, the tests are not legal (Outtz, 2011).

The Supreme Court’s decision suggested that there was a shifting burden of proof in discrimination cases. Based on this model, the plaintiffs must first offer evidence that some form of discrimination has occurred. If the court decides that the plaintiff has provided enough evidence for a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant, who must show that the hiring practice in question is job-related.

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