Untimely Discrimination Claims Could Be Revived
A recent decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Georgia, Florida, and Alabama) may have opened the door for countless otherwise-expired claims of age discrimination with no evidence of intentional basis.
In Villareal v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the Court ruled that an unsuccessful job applicant could pursue a claim of age discrimination under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act based on a “disparate impact” theory. Under this approach, the claimant does not have to prove (or even allege) intentional discrimination, but instead that a neutral policy or practice resulted in adverse actions (e.g., non-hire) that are statistically disproportionate against older individuals.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the decision was the Court’s ruling that the running of the 180-day statute of limitations did not necessarily preclude the filing of a claim. The Court held the statute could be “equitably tolled” as long as the claimant did not know and could not reasonably have known about any discriminatory practices or statistical disparities.
The Court’s rulings on both the “disparate impact” and the “equitable tolling” claims could have substantial repercussions for employers. This case highlights the importance of ensuring that employment-related policies do not have a discriminatory impact. The best way to guard against such a policy is to have a qualified employment attorney conduct a privileged employment practices audit. For more, please do not hesitate to call any of our attorneys.