Articles Posted in Age (ADEA)

Today’s post is about another recent employment-law decision from the Third Circuit.  For those of you who want the shortened version, feel free to skip to the end of the post for the valuable Lesson Learned.

Background

The plaintiff-employee, Mary Burton, founded and ran two companies, which were sold to the defendant-employer, Teleflex. Following the sale, Burton became employed by Teleflex pursuant to a written employment agreement.  Burton was 67 years old.3d businessman quits_3

I went to my second Bob Dylan concert tonight. Dylan, 71, put on a good show. A good show–but not a great show. By the end of the night, it seemed that most of the wind was out of his sails. I left the show asking myself, “How do you know when it’s time to quit?” I think this is a tough question for anyone who loves what they do and really hard for anyone who is great at what they do.

The same question could be asked about lawyers and judges. Six Pennsylvania judges have taken the question to the State’s supreme court, where they’ve filed a lawsuit alleging their constitutional rights are being violated by a provision in the State constitution that mandates the retirement of all state-court judges before they turn 71.

A similar provision in Missouri was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 but the PA judges hope that changes in the way the Court interprets the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and what science says about the effects of aging. Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia impose age restrictions on judges.

EEOC was awarded summary judgment by a federal court in Maryland last week. The court found that Baltimore County’s pension plan violates the ADEA in EEOC v. Baltimore County, Civil No. L-07-2500-BEL (D. Md. Oct. 17, 2012).

The Plan

All full-time employees under age 59 were required to participate in the Plan. Employees were required to contribute to the Plan at different rates based on the age at which they joined, so that the contribution would be sufficient to fund approximately one-half of his or her final retirement benefit, with the other half to be funded by the County. Older workers were required to contribute a higher percentage of their salary than younger workers because their contributions would have less time before retirement to accrue earnings. For example, a laborer who became a member of the Plan at age 25 was required to contribute 2.75%, whereas a laborer who joined at age 45 was required to contribute 4%. The Plan was changed in 2007 so that new employees were required to contribute at a flat rate, regardless of their age at the time they were hired.

Want some free anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training? Well, have I got a deal for you! Mystery Diners is a reality show on the Food Network. The show’s concept involves a father-daughter team who pretend to be employees and/or customers at a target restaurant in order to help the owner uncover the “leaks in the dam” so to speak.

An episode that aired last week, called, “Managing Disaster,” could be used as a workplace best-practices training video. In short, you could use the video to train employees that any of the conduct by the restaurant’s manager should be considered prohibited conduct in your workplace.

Yes, it really was that bad. And I mean bad. Let me take a moment to run through just a few examples of conduct that occurred during the hiring process.

Employee_Email.jpgEmployers can find comfort in a recent decision from the Third Circuit, which serves to remind us that we can (and should) discipline employees for policy violations–regardless of whether the employee is in a protected class.

In 2007, while investigating a complaint of sexual harassment, the employer discovered that six employees had regularly exchanged sexually explicit pictures via their company-provided email accounts. All six employees were immediately suspending pending further inquiry. Four of the six employees were subsequently terminated. Each of the terminated employees was in their late 50s or early 60s at the time they were fired.

The four employees then filed suit in federal court in the Western District of Pennsylvania, alleging that they were terminated because of their age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The District Court granted summary judgment to the employer finding that the employees had failed to demonstrate that “but for” their ages, they would not have been fired. The employees appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The Supreme Court issued its opinion in Gross v. FBL Financial Services last week, holding that a plaintiff bringing an age-discrimination claim must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that age was the “but-for” cause of the challenged adverse employment action. The burden of persuasion does not shift to the employer to show that it would have taken the action regardless of age, even when a plaintiff has produced some evidence that age was one motivating factor in that decision.

Title VII permits plaintiffs to prove that the employer had several motive.  So long as the plaintiff shows that at least one of the motives was discriminatory, he has met his burden to show cause.  The Supreme Court’s ruing in Gross, on the other hand, makes clear that the ADEA does not provide for a mixed-motive analysis.

The decision will have positive implications for employers who find themselves defending against an age-discrimination claim.

Age-discrimination claims are on the rise.  The number of age-based charges of discrimination filed with the EEOC increased by 29% in 2008, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, More Workers Cite Age Bias After Layoffs. The rise is larger than the overall increase in charge filings, which the EEOC reported as 15% over 2007.  This news won’t come as much of a surprise to most employment law attorneys, though.  We’ve seen a steep increase in charge filings, on the state and federal levels, since the summer of 2008, with a seemingly record-high numbers of charge filed in the Delaware Department of Labor during the months of September and October.  But why have age claims, in particular, been the type subject to the sharpest increase? image

For one, there are more older workers in the workforce today than ever before.  We’re living longer.  And we Traditionalists and Silents have resisted retirement, remaining active members of the workforce.  Statistically, if there are more people over 40, then it follows that there will be more age claims. 

Layoffs are another contributing factor. When layoffs happen, employees with the highest salaries are common targets.  And salary level is often commensurate with years of service.  And, as you may have guessed by now, years of service with a particular employer is often commensurate with years of total employment.

As layoffs increase, so do claims of age discrimination. Age-based harassment, though, is less common.  A 49-year-old aide to former Ohio AG Marc Dann claims that Dann’s managers used profanity and called him a “dinosaur,” resulting in what he claims was harassment and age-discrimination.  This claim comes in the middle of an already scandalous period for the former AG, who has been accused of fostering an unlawfully hostile work environment.

Ohio AG Dann

This story comes from the Zanesville Times Recorder’s article, “Complaint: AG’s office discriminated and harassed.”

Dann (pictured) and some of his aides have been in the middle of a sexual-harassment scandal, resulting in the AG’s departure from office.  David Kessler, who has filed a complaint with the EEOC against the AG’s Office, said that the scandal supports his allegations of abusive behavior. 

The U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware awarded summary judgment to BE&K Engingeering Company, finding that the EEOC had failed to show that a 54-year-old engineer, who was laid off during a reduction in force, was replaced by someone significantly younger.

EEOC argued that in a reduction-in-force situation, the ADEA prima facie case analysis should be relaxed. The Commission contended that the EEOC only needs to show that BE&K retained several significantly younger engineers while terminating a member of the protected class.

“The analysis is not that simple,” Magistrate Judge Mary Pat Thynge wrote, as she rejected EEOC’s argument. She cited a district court decision stating that when considering whether an employer gave preferential treatment to younger employees during a RIF, a court must consider “the terminated employee’s ‘fungibility’ or usefulness to the employer in comparison to other employees.”

In response to Smith v. City of Jackson, the EEOC has issued proposed regs addressing disparate impact claims brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

It has been three years since the Supreme Court issued its decision in Smith v. City of Jackson, 544 U.S. 228 (2005). In Smith, the Court held that the ADEA authorizes claims of disparate-impact discrimination. The EEOC had taken this position long before the Court’s decision.

The Court also held that the appropriate standard for determining the lawfulness of a contested practice is whether the practice can be justified by a “reasonable factor other than age” (the “RFOA test”). This was a departure from the more stringent, “business-necessity” requirement maintained by the EEOC. The new proposed regulation would reflect the City of Jackson decision. The proposed regulation also clarifies that the employer has the burden to show that a RFOA actually exists.

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