Thursday, September 15, 2005

employment - age discrimination - reduction in force

Houser v. Carpenter Technology Corp. - ED Pa. Sept. 12, 2005

Claims under Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and Pa. Human Relations Act dismissed on summary judgment.

Plaintiff lost his job when employer initiated a reduction in force (RIF). Plaintiff made out a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that a) he was a member of the protected class, b) he was qualified for the job in question, c) he suffered an adverse employment action, and d) circumstances existed which gave rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. Since this was a reduction in force case, he also had to and did show that the employer retained a sufficiently younger similarly situated employee.

However, the court held that the employer had articulated a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason (NDR) for the adverse employment action, thus shifting the burden back to the plaintiff to show that such NDR was only a pretext for discrimination.

The court held that the plaintiff failed to successfully refute the employer's asserted legitimate NDR for his dismissal. Plaintiff's primary argument was that the employer had used to wrong criteria for its decision and that it had made a wrong decision. The court rejected this reasoning based on other cases holding that " 'to discredit the employer's proffered reasons....the plaintiff cannot simply show that the employer's decision was wrong or mistaken, since the factual dispute as issue is whether discriminatory animus motivated the employer, not whether the employer is wise, shrewd, prudent,or competent.' " Instead, the plaintiff would have had to show "such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them unworthy of credence" and that its reasons were pretextual.

The plaintiff did not do that. Nor did the plaintiff show that the in the RIF as a whole, older workers were affected more than younger employees.

Donald Marritz, staff attorney
MidPenn Legal Services - Gettysburg