In any kind of civil lawsuit, it is important to recognize what you need at each phase of the process. What do I need in my complaint? What do I need in my opposition to a motion to dismiss? What proof do I need at trial? At each of these critical junctures (and throughout the process) of your discrimination case, it pays to have an experienced New Jersey employment attorney on your side who is well-versed in all the requirements of the law and can guide you along the way.
Recently, a federal ruling from the appeals court whose decisions control cases filed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware provided an important clarification when it comes to federal age discrimination cases and what you, as the discriminated employee, have to allege in your complaint.
Z.M., the employee in the case, was a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who agreed to a position with a Pennsylvania hospital in December 2016. Less than one year later, the hospital’s new owners “abruptly terminated” the surgeon, telling him that “the hospital ‘was moving in a different direction and [Z.M.’s] services were no longer needed.’” In place of Z.M., the hospital hired a pair of surgeons, each of whom was younger than Z.M.
At the time that he was fired, the surgeon was 70 years old. He did not know the precise ages of the two surgeons who replaced him. His complaint in federal court, filed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), simply alleged that the two doctors were “significantly younger,” “less qualified” and “less experienced” than he was.
The appeals court, in rendering a ruling in favor of the fired surgeon, stated that, at the complaint stage, the things that Z.M. set forth in his complaint were enough to establish a plausible case of age discrimination in violation of the ADEA.
Specifically, the appeals court ruled that, when Z.M. asserted that the two surgeons who replaced him were “significantly younger” than he was, he was making a factual allegation.
That’s very important from a procedural standpoint. In a civil lawsuit, when a defendant files a motion to dismiss the case (as the employer did in this matter,) the law says that the trial judge must, for purposes of deciding whether to grant or deny that motion to dismiss, presume that all well-pled factual allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint are actually true.
To win a federal age discrimination case, you need to have proof that you were a member of a protected group based on your age, that you were the target of an adverse employment action and that you were replaced with a person or people who were substantially younger than you were.
Z.M.’s assertion that his replacements were “significantly younger” was the sole assertion in his complaint that would satisfy the third essential element of age discrimination so, without it, his case was vulnerable to dismissal. Since his assertion qualified as “factual,” it was enough to defeat a motion to dismiss.
What this ruling by the Third Circuit effectively said was that the exact age(s) of the people/person who replaced you is something that you need not have at the complaint stage of your litigation, but that you are entitled to obtain through the pretrial discovery process.
While this surgeon worked in Pennsylvania, the outcome of his case is an important one for workers seeking federal relief from age discrimination in New Jersey. Based on this ruling, if you’re pursuing an ADEA case in New Jersey, you too are entitled to proceed with your complaint even if you do not yet know exactly how much younger your replacements were.
If you’ve been the target of discrimination at work, you doubtlessly know a lot of details surrounding the adverse action you endured. You also, though, probably don’t know all the details. Don’t let your employer fool you into thinking that, because you don’t know every single detail, you have no case. Instead, get an assessment you can trust from the experienced legal professionals at Phillips & Associates. Our team of knowledgeable age discrimination attorneys has many years of helping people just like you to get the compensation you deserve in discrimination and harassment legal actions. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.