Nadine Roddy, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group
In a most unusual case recently before the federal district court sitting in Nevada, Barnes v. Kijakazi, No. 3:18-cv-00199-MMD-WGC, 2023 WL 3007904 (D. Nev. Apr. 19, 2023), a pro se plaintiff asserted a claim of disparate-impact discrimination against the Social Security Administration (SSA) under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). It has been less than 20 years since the Supreme Court held in Smith v. City of Jackson, 544 U.S. 228 (2005), that disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the ADEA. The scope of disparate-impact liability is narrower under the ADEA than under Title VII, and the general requirement of statistical evidence to prove the elements of a disparate-impact case still applies. Thus, it is unusual for a pro se plaintiff to bring such a suit under the ADEA—even an attorney plaintiff.
The plaintiff in Barnes was a lawyer who had applied unsuccessfully for the position of attorney advisor in a soon-to-be-opened SSA hearing office in Reno, Nevada. She sued the agency through its Acting Commissioner and the hiring official who handled her application. She alleged that the official had recruited and hired five attorneys for the new office in a manner that had a disparate impact on older applicants such as herself. As part of his recruitment process, the official advertised the positions externally with an online job board maintained by the University of Nevada’s law school. He also recruited from the alumni branch of the Peace Corps.