The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court asked if 'OK, boomer' counts as age discrimination, and the courtroom burst into laughter

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Jim Young/Reuters

U.S. Supreme Court justices laugh together as they pose for their group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., November 30, 2018. Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, bottom right, asked on Wednesday if saying "okay, boomer" to a job applicant or coworker would count as an example of age discrimination.

The phrase "OK, boomer" has made it from viral internet meme to a hypothetical example of age bias in a line of questioning at the Supreme Court of the United States.

Chief Justice John Roberts asked on Wednesday if the phrase would count as age discrimination.

If a person in charge of hiring "is younger" and tells an older applicant "OK, boomer," Roberts asked, "is that actionable?"

The courtroom interrupted his questioning with laughter, according to a transcript of the oral arguments.

Roberts' question came during oral arguments in the case Babb v. Wilkie, in which Noris Babb, a former pharmacist at a Florida Veterans Affairs Medical Center, alleged she was passed up for a promotion because of age discrimination.

Roberts asked if "stray comments" like the usually humorous "OK, boomer" would indicate that age was a "significant factor" in the decision not to hire someone, and if condemning off-hand comments like that would lead to a "regulation of speech in the workplace."

Babb's lawyer, Roman Martinez, said comments like ethnic slurs or "calling people 'boomer' or saying unflattering things about them in age when considering them for a position" would "of course" be an example of discrimination.

The phrase "OK, boomer" started as an internet meme popularized by Generation Z and Millennials as a response to criticism from the Baby Boomer generation, those born roughly from 1946 to 1964.

Roberts' questioning wasn't the first time "OK, boomer" has been used by a prominent person in government - in November, a 25-year-old lawmaker in New Zealand used the retort in the country's legislature when an older lawmaker interrupted her speech during a debate on climate change.

While the meme quickly faded from popularity with Gen-Z on the internet, its appearance at the highest court in the United States from Roberts - who, born in 1955, is a boomer himself - suggests we haven't seen the last of it.

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