Reference to Age in Termination Process
Is the fact that an employer discussed an employee’s age when determining whether the employee was eligible to access a “leave bank” enough to show age discrimination?
Yes. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in St. Louis allowed Richard Hopkins, an Independence, Missouri, city employee, to sue for age bias against the city. Hopkins was denied access to the city’s leave-donation program after he was hospitalized with ventricular tachycardia and his doctor recommended that he not drive for six months. Driving was an essential element of his job, but the city’s human resources administrator and key decision-makers told Hopkins that he was not eligible to receive the program’s benefits. Although the city’s written plan did not discuss age, the employee was repeatedly told that because he was of retirement age and was vested in the pension plan, he was not eligible.
According to the 8th Circuit, these discussions raised a genuine issue of fact about how the city considered age and warranted a trial on the employee’s age discrimination claim. The court rejected the city’s argument that the age comments were random ones and could not be viewed as actual evidence of age discrimination. EEOC v. Independence, No. 054489 (8th Cir. December 22, 2006).
Impact: Employers are advised that any comments by an employer about an employee’s age may constitute evidence of age discrimination or a bias against an older employee.
Workforce Management, March 12, 2007, p. 8 — Subscribe Now!