The U.S. Supreme Court today ambled toward the summer hiatus, trotting out four decisions. Two involved civil claims against businesses.
In Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., No. 08-441 (U.S. June 18, 2009), the Court held that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 requires proof that age but-for caused a demotion. Showing that age partly "motivated" the employer's action doesn't suffice:
We hold that a plaintiff bringing a disparate-treatment claim pursuant to the ADEA must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that age was the "but-for" cause of the challenged adverse employment action. The burden of persuasion does not shift to the employer to show that it would have taken the action regardless of age, even when a plaintiff has produced some evidence that age was one motivating factor in that decision.
Id., slip op. at 12. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Kennedy, and Scalia joined in Justice Thomas's majority opinion. Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens dissented.
The other case, Travelers Indemnity Co. v. Bailey, No. 08-295 (U.S. June 18, 2009), dealt with the res judicata effect of a 1986 injunction. The plaintiffs sued insurers of Johns-Manville Corporation for hiding the dangers of exposure to asbestos-containing products. The Manville bankruptcy judge ruled that the old injunction barred the claims and ordered the plaintiffs to desist. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that the bankruptcy court lacked jurisdiction in 1986 to enjoin the "direct" claims against the insurers. The Court reversed because, it explained, res judicata doesn't allow a collateral attack on a final judgment even on the ground that the court didn't have jurisdiction of the subject matter.
Justice Souter wrote the majority opinion. Justices Stevens and Ginsburg dissented.