In any discrimination case, there can be traps and pitfalls that await you as a worker. In some cases, some of these litigation hazards can vary based upon where your lawsuit takes place, which is why an experienced New Jersey age discrimination attorney can be so vital to your case. For example, in some places, the fact that the same person who hired you also fired you soon after hiring you is considered very strong proof that no discriminatory motive existed. This is not true in the Third Circuit, which encompasses New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. In part due to this variation in the law, a man employed in Pennsylvania was able to go forward with his age and disability discrimination case.
The plaintiff in the case, Edward, was 63 when he began working for an employer that managed non-profit retirement communities. Only 14 months after Edward started his job as the entity’s Chief Financial Officer, the employer terminated him. According to the employer, the termination resulted from Edward’s poor performance, specifically, his numerous “errors in financial reports, financial models, and cash sheets.”
The employee sued his former employer. In his action, he alleged that the employer terminated him not because of his mistakes but because of his age (64) and his disability (a heart condition). The employer, in turn, asked the trial judge to issue a summary judgment in its favor. It argued that the evidence brought forward showed that Edward had no case.
There are four main criteria that an employee must show in an age discrimination case. In Edward’s action, the employer focused on the fourth part: whether “the circumstances surrounding his termination give rise to an inference of discrimination.” The employer argued that the circumstances surrounding Edward’s employment and termination could not possibly support an inference of discrimination because it hired him at age 63 and fired him at 64. Additionally, the person who hired and fired Edward was himself age 57. The person who replaced Edward was also in his 50s.
In some places, this information might have created a major roadblock for an employee’s case. That’s because, in some federal circuits, the law recognizes something called the “same actor inference.” This concept holds that if the same person who hired you was also the same person who fired you, and those two events happened in relatively close proximity in terms of time, that creates a legal presumption that the employer did not act based upon discriminatory motives. A legal presumption means that a fact-finder (a jury in a jury trial or a judge in a bench trial) can assume something to be true in the absence of evidence disproving it. Presumptions in favor of employers, like the same actor inference, can make employees’ cases more difficult.
Fortunately for Edward, and for any New Jersey employees who find themselves in situations similar to his, the law in this circuit doesn’t recognize the “same actor inference.” The Third Circuit ruled in 1995 that evidence that the same person both hired and fired a plaintiff (and did so in a small window of time) does not create a presumption. Instead, that evidence is just ordinary proof, just like any other piece of evidence, and doesn’t create any special hurdles for the plaintiff’s case.
In this case, that meant that the employee was able to defeat the employer’s request for summary judgment. The plaintiff had enough proof that the court found the existence of “a number of disputed material facts” regarding the employee’s age and disability discrimination claims, which meant the employer wasn’t entitled to summary judgment, and Edward was entitled to proceed in his case.
For your age, disability, or other discrimination case, you need experienced attorneys who are skilled and knowledgeable in the law. The New Jersey age discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates have been helping workers protect their rights in both state and federal courts for many years. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation with one of our capable and dedicated attorneys.
More blog posts:
Employer’s Use of Numerical Scoring/Ranking System for Selecting New Hires Ultimately Bolsters Candidates’ Age Discrimination Case, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, July 14, 2017
What a Federal Age Discrimination Case from Pennsylvania Can Impart to New Jersey Employers and Employees, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, June 28, 2017