A sales employee for a large corporation lost her job at age 45 when her employer terminated her and replaced her with another employee who was only 38. Although the two employees’ age difference was less than 10 years, the fired employee still was able to go forward with her Age Discrimination in Employment Act case in federal court. The judge, in denying summary judgment to the employer, pointed out that previous rulings from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes New Jersey) have found that age gaps as small as five years can sometimes qualify as “sufficiently younger” and satisfy the ADEA, Bloomberg BNA reported.
The employee, Justine, was a sales account executive for a major corporation, which was a position she’d held since 2007. She began working under a new supervisor in 2012. That supervisor proposed firing Justine in 2014 and again in 2015, claiming that Justine’s skills when it came to closing new business deals were not good enough. Human resources approved Justine’s termination in 2015. She was 45. The supervisor then replaced Justine with a 38-year-old man.
Justine brought a federal age discrimination lawsuit against her former employer. In addition to the fact that the supervisor replaced her with a 38-year-old, Justine had several other facts she asserted in support of her case. For example, the supervisor had two other employees who performed less successfully than Justine. Each of these two employees closed only three new account deals in 2015. (Justine closed five.) Despite this statistically lower performance, each was rated more favorably by the supervisor in terms of new business development, and neither was recommended for termination. One was 34 years old, and the other was 31.
Additionally, she had proof that the supervisor’s explanations in the case were often inconsistent. The supervisor asserted that “what’s success” is different for a new employee (like the 31- and 34-year-olds) versus a more veteran one like Justine, but then they later asserted that all employees were held to the same standard for closing new business deals.
As an employee and a plaintiff, providing proof of inconsistency can be a major benefit in terms of strengthening your case. The thrust of your case is that, regardless of the stated reasons an employer gives for your termination, the real reason was impermissible discrimination. Demonstrating inconsistencies can help enhance the implication that the employer’s stated reasons were not the true reasons.
You need proof that you were qualified to do the job and that a “sufficiently younger” employee replaced you. In this case, Justine had enough proof of four straight years of “generally acceptable” performance ratings prior to her last rating, meaning that she had evidence of being qualified to do her job.
When it comes to the “sufficiently younger” factor, an employer may try to claim that any age difference less than a decade is too small to satisfy this “sufficiently younger” requirement. But, as the judge in Justine’s case pointed out, the Third Circuit, whose rulings cover New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, has ruled in favor of plaintiffs in the past when the age difference was as small as five years.
As a New Jersey employee, there are several hurdles you’ll need to clear in order to succeed in your federal age discrimination case. Do not, however, make the mistake of thinking that, if you’re in your early or mid 40s and get replaced by someone in their late 30s, you have no case. Depending on the facts, yours may still be a potentially winning case. The skilled New Jersey age discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates have been helping workers with age discrimination disputes for many years and can help you pursue a path to success. Contact us online or at (619) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation with one of our skilled and experienced attorneys.
More blog posts:
Third Circuit Allows Group of Over-50 Workers to Pursue Their Federal Age Discrimination Case, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, June 7, 2017
New Jersey Jury Awards Laid-Off Engineer $51 Million in Damages in Age Discrimination Case, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, April 27, 2017