Age Discrimination: Replacement by Substantially Younger Employee & Inconsistent Reasons for Termination Establish Age Discrimination

In an age discrimination case when an employer offers inconsistent reasons for terminating an employee with a long period of successful service, and the employee is replaced by a substantially younger employee, courts often find that there a basis for prevailing at trial.

In Heins v. Alan Ritchey, Inc. 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79905 (E. D. Pa. June 12, 2014 (Baylson, J.), the Plaintiff employee filed age discrimination claims against his former employer under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). The Plaintiff was employed as the Plant Manager of Defendant’s Mail Transportation Equipment Services Center for 12 years and was terminated at age 69. Defendant offered inconsistent explanations for the termination of Plaintiff’s employment at various times, including the reason for termination being a cost reduction, poor performance, complaints from the principal customer and lack of profitability. Despite these reasons the Plaintiff was never issued any disciplinary warnings or write-ups and the employee received a substantial bonus only months prior to being terminated.

The ADEA prohibits age discrimination in employment against any person over age forty. In order to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the employee (1) is older than 40; (2) applied for and/or was qualified for the position in question; (3) suffered an adverse action; and (4) was replaced by a sufficiently younger person to support an inference of age discrimination. If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant employer to offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. If the employer is able to come forward with a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its action, the plaintiff can defeat a motion for summary judgment by providing evidence from which a fact finder could reasonably either (1) disbelieve the employer’s articulated legitimate reasons or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer’s action. If the plaintiff employee produces sufficient evidence of pretext, the employee need not produce additional evidence of discrimination beyond his prima facie case to proceed to trial.

In Heins, the court held that there were several material factual issues in dispute behind the employer’s decision to terminate Plaintiff’s employment including (1) the extent a new plant failed to comply with a customer’s policies and procedures, (2) whether the employer received complaints about the new Plant’s lack of compliance with the policies and procedures or Plaintiff’s job performance, (3) whether the alleged compliance issues and/or diminishing profits could be attributed to Plaintiff employee’s job performance or to the employer’s plant relocation, and (4) whether the employer expressed any dissatisfaction to Plaintiff regarding his job performance. Given the disputed facts, the Court held that the Plaintiff employee established sufficient pretext by showing that (1) the employer’s reason for termination could be implausible and directly contradicted by the record, (2) the employer’s articulated reasons for firing Plaintiff have been inconsistent and the employer treated, Plaintiff’s substantially younger replacement differently, casting doubt on the proffered reason. Therefore, the Court held that based on the record, and viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, a reasonable fact finder could conclude that the employer’s proffered reason for terminating Plaintiff’s employment lacks credibility and constitutes mere pretext.

For more information on age discrimination and Abramson Employment Law see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126515.html.

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