We have previously discussed age discrimination claims. To support a claim, the employer can present direct evidence and/or circumstantial evidence of discrimination.
Two recent cases focused on how circumstantial evidence can be used. In the first case, an employee was placed on a performance improvement plan. His performance improved. However, over the next several months, the employer continued to question the employee’s performance. Finally, the employee was terminated.
The employee claimed he was terminated because of his age. His sole evidence was a statement made by his supervisor, who questioned the employee’s “shelf life." The court held this type of single statement was insufficient to support a discrimination claim.
The outcome of the second case was different. A 56-year-old employee was terminated. He also alleged that he was the victim of age discrimination. The evidence was more compelling.
For example, at the time the employee was fired, two younger employees were hired for the same job. Additionally, the employer claimed the employee had missed two important client meetings. In fact, he had not done so.
The employer’s defense suffered for other reasons. The employer claimed the employee consistently failed to attend required internal meetings. However, the evidence showed the employee attended as many, or more, meetings as did his younger co-workers.
Terminations are difficult. It is imperative that employers have well thought out reasons for them. If the employee is in a protected class, like age, these reasons can offset any claim of age discrimination. However, as noted in the second case, the reasons must be honestly made.