By Amanda Yeo
Boomers hate being called boomers, even though that is what they are. But is saying “OK, boomer” tantamount to discrimination?
The U.S. Supreme Court was forced to tackle this question on Wednesday, when Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. raised the meme during oral arguments in an age discrimination case. The phrase has become popular among younger generations, and is typically used to dismiss tiresome, belligerent, or confidently uninformed baby boomers.
The question before the Supreme Court was whether a federal employee had to prove she would have been given career advancements if it hadn’t been for her age, or whether she could win her suit if age was merely one factor amongst multiple reasons she was denied. Her lawyer Roman Martinez was pushing for the latter, as it’s a much easier bar to clear.
However, Roberts expressed concern that this interpretation of the law was too broad, and could simply amount to “regulation of speech in the workplace.”
To demonstrate his point, the 64-year-old Chief Justice proposed a hypothetical. “Let’s say in the course of the, you know, weeks-long [hiring] process…the hiring person is younger, says, you know, ‘OK, boomer’…once,” Roberts said, prompting laughter from the court.
“Now, you’re only concerned about process… It doesn’t have to have played a role in the actual decision. So is that actionable?”
Roberts also took the hypothetical further, asking if the situation would change “if he just calls him a ‘boomer'” without the “OK”. “So calling somebody a “boomer” and considering them for a position would be actionable?”
In response Martinez stood by his argument, comparing the term “boomer” to ethnic slurs. “Well, if… the speech in the workplace is, you know, using ethnic slurs or — or, you know, calling people ‘boomer’ [a discrimination suit could be brought].”
This is a phenomenal stretch, considering that calling someone a “boomer” and calling them the n-word are not analogous at all. People will actually say one of those words, for starters. Numerous people before Roberts have brutally murdered this supremely cold take, akin to how boomers brutally murdered the economy.
The boomer issue wasn’t a pertinent fact of the case though, so the Supreme Court didn’t have to make a decision on whether we have to retire the meme.
This isn’t the first time “OK boomer” has made its way into official governmental proceedings. Last November, 25-year-old New Zealand MP Chlöe Swarbrick dropped the phrase during a parliamentary speech on climate change to shut down her older colleagues after pointing out how old they all were.
However, it may be the first time it has been used in this setting by an actual boomer. It seems they’re becoming self-aware.