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Chief Justice Roberts wants to know if ‘OK Boomer’ counts as age discrimination

Chief Justice Roberts wants to know if ‘OK Boomer’ counts as age discrimination


The courtroom erupted in laughter

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Photo by Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images

The term “OK Boomer” has been entered into the official records of the US Supreme Court. Today, Chief Justice John Roberts used the phrase as a means to discuss age discrimination at a Supreme Court hearing and whether uttering it during a job interview could qualify as legal evidence.

The moment came during a case hearing for Babb v. Wilkie, in which plaintiff Norris Babb — who was in her early 50s at the time of the incident — alleged that she was denied a promotion from the Department of Veterans Affairs based on her age and gender. During questioning, Roberts posited that if a hiring person were to say, “OK Boomer ... is that actionable?” According to the court transcript, the hypothetical question was met with laughter.

Ultimately, the court moved on after noting that it would likely be actionable if the term was used as a way to negatively judge a job candidate, especially if done so against a younger alternate. “If the decision makers are sitting around the table and they say, ‘we’ve got Candidate A who’s 35’ and ‘we’ve got Candidate B who’s 55 and is a boomer’ — and is probably tired and you know, doesn’t have a lot of computer skills, I think that absolutely would be actionable,” the court concluded.

Supreme Court justices aren’t expected to maintain a deep familiarity with memes, but the moment did mark the first time the phrase was uttered in a high court hearing. “OK, Boomer” has made its appearance in legal settings before, though: last November, a 25-year-old New Zealand lawmaker used the phrase as a retort against an older member of Parliament who heckled her during a speech for a climate crisis bill.

“Boomer” is a colloquial but not always derogatory term for Americans who were born between 1946 and 1964, a period dubbed “the baby boom” for its heightened birth rates. Chief Justice Roberts was born in 1955.