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The 64-year-old leader of the Supreme Court posed a question on Wednesday that some in his generation have been asking for months: Does saying “OK, boomer” count as age discrimination?
If the query hadn’t been an earnest attempt to test the bounds of a lawyer’s legal argument, Chief Justice John Roberts might have followed it up with another viral expression: “Asking for a friend.”
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But Roberts wasn’t typing a tweet. This was a meeting of the highest court in the land, and its nine justices - older federal employees ranging from 52 to 86 years old - were hearing a case about the standard that older federal employees must meet when trying to prove age discrimination.
The case, Babb v. Wilkie, centers on Noris Babb, a pharmacist for the Department of Veterans Affairs who sued her employer, claiming that she was denied pay raises and promotions partly because of her age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act requires those working in the private sector or for state or local governments to show that age caused the discriminatory action.
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Babb’s lawyers have argued that differences between the law’s federal and private-sector provisions mean that government workers must only prove that age was one among several factors that led to the negative action, making it easier for them to sue their employer.
Roberts was skeptical, quizzing Babb’s attorney, Roman Martinez, and becoming the first person in Supreme Court history to invoke the popular “OK, boomer” meme as the chamber chuckled.
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“So calling somebody a ‘boomer’ and considering them for a position would be actionable?” Roberts asked.
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