Why It'll Be Easier to Turn That Pink Slip Green

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Trial lawyers, rejoice. The Supreme Court, in a rare, pro-litigation sort of mood, has cleared the way for a new crush of bias lawsuits pitting employee against employer. Monday, the Justices ruled unanimously that employees can file job-discrimination suits against employers without presenting any hard evidence that the employer in question intended to break the law. Once upon a time, of course, employees who wanted to sue employers for discriminatory practices were obliged to dredge up proof of their bosses' illegal motivation (say, to fire on the basis of age, race or gender) — a litmus test that often involved the unenviable task of undermining the credibility of a corporation in front of a jury.

The case in question involved Roger Reeves, a 57-year-old man who was fired from the job he'd held for 40 years; a jury agreed with Reeves' claims of age discrimination and ordered the company to pay $100,000 in damages and back pay. After numerous appeals, in which the initial decision was variously upheld and reversed, the Supreme Court found in the man's favor. As mirrored in the particulars of Reeves' case, Monday's decision ends years of protracted legal battles over the minutiae of discrimination suits; instead, the Justices' opinion has signaled that so-called prima facie evidence will suffice in dealing with workplace woes. The lower courts will, of course, follow suit — and no doubt will be flooded by previously cautious plaintiffs prodded into battle by lawyers thirsty for corporate blood.