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Western Air Lines, Inc. v. Criswell
United States Supreme Court
472 U.S. 400 (1985)
A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation required commercial pilots and first officers to retire at age 60. However, the FAA had no mandatory retirement age for cockpit flight engineers. Despite the lack of an FAA regulation, Western Air Lines, Inc. (Western) (defendant) required its flight engineers to retire at age 60. Charles Criswell, Albert Ron, and Rulon Starley (plaintiffs) were forced to retire at age 60 based on Western’s policy. Criswell, Ron, and Starley sued Western, alleging that Western’s mandatory-retirement policy violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) provision prohibiting mandatory retirement before age 70. Western asserted that its policy did not violate the ADEA because age was a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). At trial, the evidence indicated that it was feasible to conduct individual medical examinations of flight-crew members over age 60 to determine if they were physically qualified to fly and that other large commercial airlines permitted flight engineers over age 60 to fly with no reduction in the airlines’ safety records. The trial court instructed the jury that Western was entitled to the BFOQ defense only if the mandatory-retirement policy was reasonably necessary to the essence of Western’s business, which the court defined as safely transporting passengers. The jury found for Criswell, Ron, and Starley, and the appellate court affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Stevens, J.)
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