We previously wrote here about claims for age discrimination in employment. As we explained:
When an employee brings an age discrimination claim under the ADEA based only on circumstantial evidence, federal courts employ the McDonnell Douglas three-step burden-shifting framework.
First, the employee must prove a prima facie case of discrimination. In a typical case, this can be done by proving that the employee:
(1) was discharged;
(2) was qualified for the position;
(3) was within the protected class at the time of discharge (that is, 40 or older); and
(4) was either (i) replaced by someone outside the protected class or by someone younger or (ii) otherwise discharged because of his age.
If the employee makes out a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision.
Finally, if the employer meets its burden, the burden shifts back to the employee to show that the reason was “merely a pretext for discrimination.”
In this regard, the employee must show that age was the “but-for” cause of the challenged employment action. In other words, age has to be “the” reason for the adverse employment action, not simply one of several motivating causes.
What happens if the employee who was fired was replaced by someone older than her? Does her claim fail because of that? Last week, the Fifth Circuit said “no”
Alaniz v. U.S. Renal Care
Juan Alaniz sued U.S. Renal Care, Inc. (USRC), his former employer, alleging age discrimination. Specifically, he alleged harassment and, ultimately, termination based on his age (53).
USRC initially replaced Alaniz with someone who was 58. A month and a half later, USRC also hired someone who was 26 to do the same job.
Alaniz argued that the second person was the one that actually replaced him, and the first person was merely put in place to create the impression that Alaniz was not fired due to his age.
The district court accepted USRC’s position and granted it summary judgment.
The Fifth Circuit reverses.
On appeal, the Fifth Circuit held that “although replacement by someone older suggests there is no age discrimination, it does not prove there was no age discrimination.” (emphasis added)
The Court continued: “Our sister circuits have concluded that various facts can reasonably support an inference that an older, temporary replacement was simply hired to ward off a threatened discrimination suit, and that the plaintiff can still prove he was ‘otherwise discharged because of his age.’ ”
Because Alaniz had evidence that he was “otherwise discharged because of his age,” as is often required in alleged-cover cases,” the district court should not have granted summary judgment to USRC.
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