Workplace discrimination can occur in various ways in Wisconsin and across the United States. While the law provides avenues of relief for these employees, there can be challenges in meeting the threshold to prove that age discrimination has occurred. A recent decision by the Supreme Court paved the way for federal employees to have an easier time than their private sector counterparts in showing they were subjected to age discrimination.

Proving that age discrimination took place

The decision centered around what must be proven for there to be a finding that age discrimination took place. For private sector employees, it is necessary to show that the age discrimination was the determinative factor in the employment decision, referred to as “but-for.” With federal employees, the agency must show their actions were made without differential treatment even if there would have been the same outcome. The case that led to this 8-1 decision was filed by a pharmacist for the Veterans Affairs Department. She stated that she was deprived of promotion and receiving training in 2013 due to sex and age discrimination.

The crux of the Supreme Court’s decision was based on interpretation of the terminology. If an older employee is penalized for their age, but the younger employee would have been deemed a better candidate anyway, the discrimination still exists. The outcome did not change, but it is discriminatory behavior. This is key to showing discrimination.

Federal employees must show causation

Even with the disparity in the basis of federal and private sector claims, federal employees must show causation through but-for if they are to be compensated. Unless there is proof that there would have been a different outcome without any form of age discrimination, the plaintiff can only force changes to the agency’s policy, training and other aspects of the job.

It is understandable why this might be confusing to an employee regardless of whether the job is federal or in the private sector. If there is a belief that there was an adverse action because of discrimination, discussing the case with an employment law attorney may be helpful in filing a case.