Third Circuit Allows “Subgroup” Disparate-Impact Claims to Proceed Under The ADEA

Employers are well aware of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), which protects individuals over the age of forty, as well as its disparate-impact provision, which makes it unlawful for an employer to adopt a facially-neutral policy that adversely affects an individual employee’s status “because of such individual’s age.” However, in a precedential opinion filed on January 10, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the ADEA allows plaintiffs to proceed with a disparate-impact claim whereby only a “subgroup” or segment of employees over the age of forty are alleged to have been disfavored relative to younger employees.

In Karlo v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC, No. 15-3435, the defendant-employer underwent several reductions in force (“RIFs”) to offset disappointing sales during the height of the recession. Several employees who were terminated in one particular RIF, all of whom were over fifty years old, brought a putative ADEA collective action against the employer asserting, among other things, a disparate-impact claim. The district court thereafter decertified the plaintiffs’ collective action, which was “to be comprised of employees terminated by the RIF who were at least fifty years old at the time.” Additionally, the district court granted the defendant-employer’s motion for summary judgment as to the disparate-impact claim, holding that plaintiffs’ “fifty-and-older” disparate-impact claim was not permitted under the ADEA.

On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment as to the disparate-impact claim. The court noted that disparate-impact claims may proceed under the ADEA “when a plaintiff offers evidence that a specific, facially neutral employment practice caused a significantly disproportionate adverse impact based on age.” In Karlo, the plaintiff alleged that the specific RIF disproportionately impacted only a portion of the forty-and-older employee population: employees older than fifty. The Third Circuit found that this claim was cognizable, holding that plaintiffs may demonstrate the impact of facially-neutral policy “with various forms of evidence, including forty-and-older comparisons, subgroup comparisons, or more sophisticated statistical modeling, so long as that evidence meets the usual standards for admissibility.”

The court heavily relied upon the Supreme Court’s decision in O’Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp., which held that the ADEA “does not ban discrimination against employees because they are aged 40 or older; it bans discrimination against employees because of their age, but limits the protected class to those who are 40 or older.” Thus, the court held that ADEA claims by subgroups of those aged forty or older are cognizable because “evidence that a policy disfavors employees” of such a subgroup “is probative of the relevant statutory question: whether the policy creates a disparate impact ‘because of such individual[‘s] age” under the plain language of the ADEA. The court found that it is “utterly irrelevant” whether the employer’s policy benefits younger members of those employees over forty, so long as an employee can show that his or her subgroup was adversely affected.

Following Karlo, employers should review their policies to confirm that they are in compliance with the ADEA and do not unintentionally discriminate against employees who are in “subgroups” over forty years old. For more information on the implications of the Karlo decision, please contact John C. Petrella, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Employment Litigation Practice Group, at jpetrella@nullgenovaburns.com, or Dina M. Mastellone, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Human Resources Practice Group, at dmastellone@nullgenovaburns.com, or 973-533-0777.

NYC Joins the Pre-Trump Push for Employee Work Schedule Protections

New York City has joined several other cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, introducing legislation that offers more predictable, stable work schedules for employees in low-wage occupations. The legislation generally offers employees more notice of schedules, more access to extra hours, additional pay for last-minute schedule changes, and a mandated period of rest between certain back-to-back shifts. If passed, the legislation would take effect 180 days after being signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

More specifically, New York City has proposed a package of five bills that would offer the following protections related to employee work schedules:

  • Employees would have the right to request a change in their work arrangements (e.g., schedule changes, location reassignments) without fear of retaliation and employers would be required to engage in an “interactive process” and provide a good faith response within two weeks of the request.
  • Employees would be afforded a right to receive certain changes to work arrangements in emergency situations, like a childcare emergency or personal health emergency.
  • Employers would be prohibited from engaging in on-call scheduling of retail employees.
  • Employers would be prohibited from providing a retail employee with less than 20 hours of work during any 14-day period.
  • Employers of fast food restaurants would be required to provide employees with an estimate of their work schedule upon hire and notice of work schedules 14 days in advance, subject to penalties for untimely notice.
  • Employers would be prohibited from making fast food employees work consecutive shifts when the first shift closes the establishment and the second shift opens it the next day (nicknamed “cloepening” shifts). Employers would be required to give fast food workers at least eleven hours off between such shifts and would pay a $100 premium to an employee every time he or she was made to work such consecutive cloepening shifts.
  • Employers of fast-food establishments would be required to offer available hours to existing employees up until the point that they would have to pay those existing employees overtime, or until all current employees have rejected such available hours, before they could hire new employees.

New York City’s efforts appear to be an attempt to prevent what many fear will be backlash against workers’ rights from the incoming Trump administration. The goal of these legislative measures is to lessen the wage gap in big cities, where the cost of living is typically higher, by offering low-wage workers the opportunity to budget in advance, plan for education or family care, and secure a second job, among other things. Those who oppose the initiatives raise several concerns. According to many business officials, the implementation of scheduling mandates on employers would result in rising costs and decreased efficiency because scheduling changes are typically initiated by employees. Another critic accused the New York City Council of acting as labor organizers, particularly in light of the penalties imposed, which are similar to collective bargaining provisions.

For more information on the pending New York City legislation and how the new requirements will affect your business, please contact John Vreeland, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Wage and Hour Compliance Group, at (973) 535-7118 or jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com, or Dina M. Mastellone, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Human Resources Practices Group, at dmastellone@nullgenovaburns.com, or 973-533-0777.