Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Lab., 554 U.S. 84, 128 S. Ct. 2395 (2008)

When the United States government ordered Knolls (one of the contractors that maintains the nation’s fleet of nuclear-powered warships) to reduce its workforce, the company conducted an involuntary reduction in force, resulting in the layoff of 31 employees, 30 of whom were age 40 or older. Twenty-eight of the laid-off employees filed suit asserting a disparate impact claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. At trial, the employees prevailed by showing that Knolls’ layoff criteria failed the “business necessity” test and because there existed alternative criteria that could have achieved the same results without disadvantaging a protected group of employees. After an earlier review by the Supreme Court, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the judgment, holding that the burden remained with the employees who were required to prove (and did not) that Knolls’ reasons for the layoff were unreasonable. In a 7-to-1 ruling, the Supreme Court reversed the Second Circuit and held that when an employer defends against a disparate impact claim on the basis of “reasonable factors other than age” (“RFOA”), the employer must not only produce evidence raising the defense, but also must persuade the factfinder of its merit. See also Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC, 554 U.S. 135, 128 S. Ct. 2361 (2008) (disability benefits formula did not discriminate against older workers who became disabled after retirement age); cf. Hearns v. San Bernardino Police Dep’t, 530 F.3d 1124 (9th Cir. 2008) (discrimination complaint containing excessively detailed factual allegations was improperly dismissed under F.R.C.P. 8).