Maine Supreme Court Holds That “Business Necessity” Standard Applies in Age-Based Disparate Impact Claims

On March 7, 2017, in Scamman v. Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc., the Maine Supreme Court held that the “business necessity” standard applies to disparate impact age discrimination claims under the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) rather than the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act’s (ADEA) “reasonable factor other than age” (RFOA) defense. In the case, the parties disagreed on the legal standard that applied to the disparate impact age discrimination claim under the MHRA. The employees argued that it should be the “business necessity” standard used in Title VII cases because the language in MHRA § 4572(a)(A) is similar to corresponding language in Title VII. Alternatively, the employer argued that the RFOA standard, applied in cases under ADEA § 623(f)(1), was appropriate because Maine generally follows federal law. However, in this case the court turned to the Maine Human Rights Commission’s application of the business necessity framework to the employees’ disparate impact age discrimination claims. The commission also made clear in its amicus brief that its interpretation is that the ADEA’s RFOA defense does not apply to MHRA claims, and the business necessity framework does apply.

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