We, The Jury In a landmark age-discrimination ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court defers to the judgment of the jury.
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The complex body of legislation, regulations and court decisionsknown as "the law" develops year by year, not in straightlines but in a moving tangle of zigzags. One role of the U.S.Supreme Court is monitoring the progress of the law on a multitudeof issues and making corrections where needed to keep the law on agiven issue from wandering too far afield.
That perspective helps explain the recent Supreme Court rulingin Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., which maymake discrimination lawsuits more difficult for employers to win.The case concerned allegations of age discrimination, but thecourt's ruling is likely to be cited nationwide in all kinds ofemployment discrimination claims, because it sets precedent on twoissues. First, the court reaffirmed the principle that it's upto the jury, not a judge, to listen to witnesses and judge theircredibility. That ruling will likely make it more difficult to getcases dismissed on summary judgment or overturned on appeal.Second, the court ruled that when an employer's stated reasonfor terminating someone in a protected class can be shown to befalse, the jury has the right to infer that the real motive wasdiscrimination.
"Reeves will be with us for a long time," saysemployment attorney Paul Salvatore of Proskauer Rose LLP in NewYork City. "It could tilt the balance toward employees bymaking it harder to overturn juries." Salvatore notes that, aswith any court decision, the significance of the ruling will dependon how lower courts interpret it. "But the court was sending amessage that, under the facts of the Reeves case, the judgeshould not be taking the role of the jury."