TWA discriminated against older pilots Essay

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that Trans World
Airlines (TWA) had discriminated against its older pilots by making it
difficult for them to move into flight engineers jobs when they reached
the age 60 ceiling for pilots set by Federal law. The case, Trans World
Airlines v. Thurston, had broad significance because several similar
discrimination suits were processed against several other airlines.



Under TWA policy, pilots reaching age 60 could bid on flight
engineers jobs, but were forced to retire if no such jobs were
available. In the opinion written by Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., the
Court said the policy was “discriminatory on its face” because
a pilot unable to fly for reasons other than age would have been given
another job without having to bid or wait for it.

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In another important aspect of the ruling that has applications
throughout the economy, the Court held that double damages can be
awarded in discrimination cases only if the employer acted in
“reckless disregard” of antidiscrimination law. Under Federal
law, double damages can be assessed if the violation is
“willful,” which had been interpreted in a number of ways by
Federal courts. In their arguments before the Supreme Court in the TWA
case, attorneys for the pilots had contended that double damages should
apply if TWA was aware of the law and its provisions. This argument was
rejected by the Court, which said that such a standard “would
result in an award of double damages in almost every case.”
Instead, the Court backed TWA’s argument by defining willful
conduct as occurring when an employer “knew or showed reckless
disregard for” whether its action was prohibited by Federal law.

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