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U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic's case expands age discrimination protection

Publication Date: 
March 30, 2005
Source: 
Stanford Law School

The 5 to 3 ruling held that the ADEA permits lawsuits under a disparate impact theory, the same rule that applies under federal law for claims of race and gender discrimination. The decision affects the rights of an estimated 70 million workers, about half the nation's work force. The Court, however, rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the particular policy they challenged violated the ADEA.

The petitioners, a group of police department employees in Jackson, Mississippi, were represented in the Supreme Court by the clinic, directed by Professor Pamela Karlan and Lecturers Thomas Goldstein and Amy Howe, and by Mississippi attorney Dennis Horn. Four students in the clinic - Michael Abate, William Adams, Jennifer Thomas, and Lee Reeves - worked intensively on the case, participating in drafting the cert. petition and the merits briefs. Mr. Goldstein presented the petitioners' oral argument at the Court in November 2004.

The Supreme Court Litigation Clinic was launched at Stanford Law School in January 2004 to teach students about Supreme Court litigation, as well as to give them intensive instruction in legal writing and working as a team. The Smith case was the clinic's first. Currently, the clinic has two other cases in which it represented petitioners awaiting decision, and an additional case scheduled for oral argument next Term.

The clinic was designed by two veteran Supreme Court advocates--Pamela S. Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law, and Thomas C. Goldstein, a lecturer at the law school and a partner, along with lecturer Amy Howe at Goldstein & Howe, a Washington, D.C. law firm that specializes in Supreme Court litigation. Howe formally joined the teaching team at the start of the clinic's second semester.

"While we're pleased that today's decision establishes the principle that the ADEA reaches disparate impact claims, we are of course disappointed that the Court rejected our clients' claim," said Karlan. "The decision is a lesson about Supreme Court litigation that only a clinic like Stanford's can teach students so vividly."

"We were very pleased to have such a fundamental civil rights claim vindicated. And we could not have been more pleased that it came in a case in which the students worked so hard," said Goldstein.

The clinic, with nine students and three faculty members, operates as a small law firm focused solely on pro bono cases. Students participate in drafting cert. petitions, oppositions to cert. petitions, merits briefs, and amicus briefs. They also comment on drafts of briefs being filed by lawyers in other cases, and help prepare advocates for their oral arguments through moot courts.

The case is Smith v. City of Jackson, 03-1160.