In a case that illustrates how a supervisor’s ill-advised comments can come back to haunt a company, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently revived a discrimination case by an older employee who had been laid off.
In Sharp v. Aker Plant Services Group, Inc., the plaintiff accused his employer of age discrimination because it terminated him while retaining a younger worker whom he had trained. His supervisor allegedly told him that the company had a succession plan “where you bring in younger people, train them, so that when the older people leave, you’ll have younger people.” The plaintiff also had a recording on which the supervisor said: “We’re all of the same age and we’re all going to retire; I had the opportunity to bring the next generation in, so that’s what we decided to do.”
A lower court held that these statements expressed only a concern for maximizing the firm’s return on investment by retaining employees who would stay with it longer. The appeals court disagreed, arguing that this concern about employees’ potential longevity with the company could be considered a smoke screen for direct evidence of age bias. What’s more, although the supervisor stated that the younger employee was a better performer, he had written a strong letter of recommendation for the plaintiff.
The moral of the story: Keep a close eye on termination decisions that involve older employees.
Article courtesy of Worklaw® Network firm Shawe Rosenthal (www.shawe.com).