This time it was Ithaca police officer Chris Miller who lost his claim that Ithaca discriminated against him and other non-minority officers in favor of minority policemen. That complaint did not fly with the jury, but his allegation that he was retaliated against for making it did, two million dollars worth. City to pay $2 million in discrimination case.
As always there is a lot more to this case than is covered in the brief article reporting on the jury's verdict. The Cornell Daily Sun did a four part story on the background of Miller's claim and the assertions made by him, some of which were excluded by the trial court. See part one and two here, and part three and four here.
Actually that's a misleading headline, what it should say is the end of the line for Jack Gross, the ill fated plaintiff whose lawsuit became the vehicle for the Supreme Court's 2009 decision, which held that the ADEA, unlike Title VII, never permits a mixed motive analysis instead requiring a "but for" test.
Ironically, the well traveled case, which started with a 2003 reassignment Mr. Gross felt was to a lower position, was finally decided on the question which many had hoped the Supreme Court would address -- how do you determine when you get a mixed motive instruction? In an unpublished opinion affirming a jury verdict in favor of Gross's former employer, the 8th Circuit held that it is a question for the Court, to be determined after all the evidence is presented. Not too surprisngly given the difficulty courts have had applying mixed motive, the Court failed to tell us on what basis it is to be determined.
Although as expected, the initial Gross decision did result in some legislative stirrings, fortunately none passed. Three years ago next week, I testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to such proposed legislation. I wish I could say it was my brilliant thoughts (you can judge for yourself here ,about 51:30 into the hearing) that forestalled such legislation, but I have my doubts. But last Friday's decision, as well as Smith v. Xerox, illustrate the point I made to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Mixed motive, created when discrimination cases were tried to the court, has not fared well in the world of jury trials. I testified then, and still believe, it is both complex and unneeded, and what should be done is to jettison it from all of employment law, not just ADEA claims, where fortunately, it has been.