BABB v. WILKIE, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit

No. 18-882. Argued January 15, 2020--Decided April 6, 2020

Petitioner Noris Babb, a clinical pharmacist at a U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, sued the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (hereinafter VA) for, inter alia, age discrimination in various adverse personnel actions. The VA moved for summary judgment, offering nondiscriminatory reasons for the challenged actions. The District Court granted the VA’s motion after finding that Babb had established a prima facie case, that the VA had proffered legitimate reasons for the challenged actions, and that no jury could reasonably conclude that those reasons were pretextual. On appeal, Babb contended the District Court’s requirement that age be a but-for cause of a personnel action was inappropriate under the federal-sector provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Because most federal-sector “personnel actions” affecting individuals aged 40 and older must be made “free from any discrimination based on age,” 29 U. S. C. §633a(a), Babb argued, such a personnel action is unlawful if age is a factor in the challenged decision. Thus, even if the VA’s proffered reasons in her case were not pretextual, it would not necessarily follow that age discrimination played no part. The Eleventh Circuit found Babb’s argument foreclosed by Circuit precedent.

Held: The plain meaning of §633a(a) demands that personnel actions be untainted by any consideration of age. To obtain reinstatement, damages, or other relief related to the end result of an employment decision, a showing that a personnel action would have been different if age had not been taken into account is necessary, but if age discrimination played a lesser part in the decision, other remedies may be appropriate. Pp. 3–14.

 (a) The Government argues that the ADEA’s federal-sector provision imposes liability only when age is a but-for cause of an employment decision, while Babb maintains that it prohibits any adverse consideration of age in the decision-making process. The plain meaning of the statutory text shows that age need not be a but-for cause of an employment decision in order for there to be a violation. Pp. 4–7.

  (1) The ADEA does not define the term “personnel action,” but a statutory provision governing federal employment, 5 U. S. C. §2302(a)(2)(A), defines it to include most employment-related decisions—an interpretation consistent with the term’s general usage. The phrase “free from” means “untainted,” and “any” underscores that phrase’s scope. As for “discrimination,” its “normal definition” is “differential treatment.” Jackson v. Birmingham Bd. of Ed., 544 U. S. 167, 174. And “[i]n common talk, the phrase ‘based on’ indicates a but-for causal relationship,” Safeco Ins. Co. of America v. Burr, 551 U. S. 47, 63, thus indicating that age must be a but-for cause of the discrimination alleged. The remaining phrase—“shall be made”—denotes a duty, emphasizing the importance of avoiding the taint. Pp. 4–5.

  (2) Two matters of syntax are critical here. First, “based on age” is an adjectival phrase modifying the noun “discrimination,” not the phrase “personnel actions.” Thus, age must be a but-for cause of discrimination but not the personnel action itself. Second, “free from any discrimination” is an adverbial phrase that modifies the verb “made” and describes how a personnel action must be “made,” namely, in a way that is not tainted by differential treatment based on age. Thus, the straightforward meaning of §633a(a)’s terms is that the statute does not require proof that an employment decision would have turned out differently if age had not been taken into account. Instead, if age is a factor in an employment decision, the statute has been violated.

 The Government has no answer to this parsing of the statutory text. It makes correct points about the meaning of particular words, but draws the unwarranted conclusion that the statutory text requires something more than a federal employer’s mere consideration of age in personnel decisions. The Government’s only other textual argument is that the term “made” refers to a particular moment in time, i.e., the moment when the final employment decision is made. That interpretation, however, does not mean that age must be a but-for cause of the ultimate outcome. Pp. 5–7.

 (b) Contrary to the Government’s primary argument, this interpretation is not undermined by prior cases interpreting the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U. S. C. §1681m(a), see Safeco Ins. Co. of America, 551 U. S. 47; the ADEA’s private-sector provision, 29 U. S. C. §623(a)(1), see Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U. S. 167; and Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision, 42 U. S. C. §2000e–3(a), see University of Tex. Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U. S. 338. The language of §633a(a) is markedly different than the language of those statutes; thus the holdings in those cases are entirely consistent with the holding here. And the traditional rule favoring but-for causation does not change the result: §633a(a) requires proof of but-for causation, but the objection of that causation is “discrimination,” not the personnel action. Pp. 8–11.

 (c) It is not anomalous to hold the Federal Government to a stricter standard than private employers or state and local governments. See §623(a). When Congress expanded the ADEA’s scope beyond private employers, it added state and local governments to the definition of employers in the private-sector provision. But it “deliberately prescribed a distinct statutory scheme applicable only to the federal sector,” Lehman v. Nakshian, 453 U. S. 156, 166, eschewing the private-sector provision language. That Congress would want to hold the Federal Government to a higher standard is not unusual. See, e.g., 5 U. S. C. §2301(b)(2). Regardless, where the statute’s words are unambiguous, the judicial inquiry is complete. Pp. 11–13.

 (d) But-for causation is nevertheless important in determining the appropriate remedy. Plaintiffs cannot obtain compensatory damages or other forms of relief related to the end result of an employment decision without showing that age discrimination was a but-for cause of the employment outcome. This conclusion is supported by basic principles long employed by this Court, see, e.g., Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U. S. 83, 103, and traditional principles of tort and remedies law. Remedies must be tailored to the injury. Plaintiffs who show that age was a but-for cause of differential treatment in an employment decision, but not a but-for cause of the decision itself, can still seek injunctive or other forward-looking relief. Pp. 13–14.

743 Fed. Appx. 280, reversed and remanded.

 Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, JJ., joined, and in which Ginsburg, J., joined as to all but footnote 3. Sotomayor, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion.


KANSAS v. GLOVER

Certiorari To The Supreme Court Of Kansas

No. 18-556. Argued November 4, 2019--Decided April 6, 2020

A Kansas deputy sheriff ran a license plate check on a pickup truck, discovering that the truck belonged to respondent Glover and that Glover’s driver’s license had been revoked. The deputy pulled the truck over because he assumed that Glover was driving. Glover was in fact driving and was charged with driving as a habitual violator. He moved to suppress all evidence from the stop, claiming that the deputy lacked reasonable suspicion. The District Court granted the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Kansas Supreme Court in turn reversed, holding that the deputy violated the Fourth Amendment by stopping Glover without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Held: When the officer lacks information negating an inference that the owner is driving the vehicle, an investigative traffic stop made after running a vehicle’s license plate and learning that the registered owner’s driver’s license has been revoked is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 3–10.

 (a) An officer may initiate a brief investigative traffic stop when he has “a particularized and objective basis” to suspect legal wrongdoing. United States v. Cortez, 449 U. S. 411, 417. The level of suspicion required is less than that necessary for probable cause and “depends on ‘ “the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.” ’ ” Prado Navarette v. California, 572 U. S. 393, 402. Courts must therefore permit officers to make “commonsense judgments and inferences about human behavior.” Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U. S. 119, 125. P. 3.

 (b) Here, the deputy’s commonsense inference that the owner of a vehicle was likely the vehicle’s driver provided more than reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop. That inference is not made unreasonable merely because a vehicle’s driver is not always its registered owner or because Glover had a revoked license. Though common sense suffices to justify the officer’s inference, empirical studies demonstrate that drivers with suspended or revoked licenses frequently continue to drive. And Kansas’ license-revocation scheme, which covers drivers who have already demonstrated a disregard for the law or are categorically unfit to drive, reinforces the reasonableness of the inference that an individual with a revoked license will continue to drive. Pp. 4–6.

 (c) Glover’s counterarguments are unpersuasive. He argues that the deputy’s inference was unreasonable because it was not grounded in his law enforcement training or experience. Such a requirement, however, is inconsistent with this Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. See, e.g., Navarette, 572 U. S., at 402. It would also place the burden on police officers to justify their inferences by referring to training materials or experience, and it would foreclose their ability to rely on common sense obtained outside of their work duties. Glover’s argument that Kansas’ view would permit officers to base reasonable suspicion exclusively on probabilities also carries little force. Officers, like jurors, may rely on probabilities in the reasonable suspicion context. See, e.g., United States v. Sokolow, 490 U. S. 1, 8–9. Moreover, the deputy here did more than that: He combined facts obtained from a database and commonsense judgments to form a reasonable suspicion that a specific individual was potentially engaged in specific criminal activity. Pp. 6–8.

 (d) The scope of this holding is narrow. The reasonable suspicion standard “ ‘takes into account the totality of the circumstances.’ ” Navarette, 572 U. S., at 397. The presence of additional facts might dispel reasonable suspicion, but here, the deputy possessed no information sufficient to rebut the reasonable inference that Glover was driving his own truck. P. 9.

308 Kan. 590, 422 P. 3d 64, reversed and remanded.

 Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, JJ., joined. Kagan, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion.