Supreme Court Rules “But For” Causation Not Required for Federal Employees to Prove Age Discrimination

April 7, 2020

The Supreme Court held yesterday in Babb v. Wilkie that the plain meaning of the ADEA demands that personnel actions concerning federal government employees be untainted by any consideration of age. Typically, in private sector employment, a plaintiff can prevail in an age discrimination case by showing that age discriminatory animus was the “but for” cause of an actual adverse employment action (e.g., discharge, failure to promote, reassignment, wage cut, etc.). Under §633a(a), however, the Court held that a federal government employee may have an age discrimination claim without having to show that discrimination constituted such a “but for” cause of an adverse employment action, because that section expressly requires that all “personnel actions” in federal sector employment be “free from any discrimination on the basis of age.” Nevertheless, the plaintiff would still need to show a “but for” cause to the extent he or she sought remedies such as job reinstatement, damages, or other relief related to the end result of an employment decision. But if age discrimination played a lesser part in the decision, other remedies may still be appropriate.

Here is a link to the decision à