October 15, 2013
Pennsylvania: Was termination due to age discrimination or job elimination?

PennsylvaniaA terminated 65-year-old security director said that he was discriminated against on the basis of his age and retaliated against for complaining of discrimination and taking medical leave.

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What happened. From September 2008 until January 2011, “Michael” worked as director of security for Northwestern Human Services, Inc.

In mid-2010, he took medical leave to have knee surgery and claimed he was treated in a hostile manner upon his return. Specifically, he believes he irritated his supervisor by taking leave; his request for a handicapped parking spot was denied; management would not address the fact that his assigned parking spot was always taken; he was excluded from meetings; his job responsibilities were being handled by “Sean,” an employee who was at least 30 years younger; and the company was trying to move Sean into a better office and relegate Michael to a basement office.

Michael made multiple complaints of age bias and discriminatory treatment to management, including one complaint only 3 or 4 days before he was terminated on January 10, 2011.

The company told Michael that his position had been eliminated, but Michael contends that he was “functionally replaced” by Sean. Although Sean was not given the title of director of security, Michael’s former staff reported to Sean; Sean performed the general job functions that Michael had performed; and Sean received a pay raise.

Michael filed suit, alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Northwestern filed a motion for summary judgment.

What the court said. The court denied Northwestern’s motion, saying Michael presented a prima facie case of discrimination and retaliation under the ADEA/PHRA and retaliation under the FMLA and provided enough evidence that his former employer’s stated reason for terminating him was a pretext for discrimination and retaliation.

Among other things, the court cited the inability of managers to pinpoint the date that the termination decision was made; the lack of documentation before January 10, 2011, regarding the termination decision; and the company’s offer of severance pay on the condition that Michael waive any ADEA or FMLA claims, even though it was not company policy to do so. Staffieri v. Northwestern Human Services, Inc., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, No. 12-1612 (2013).

Point to remember: Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on their age and retaliating against them for complaining of discrimination or for taking medical leave.

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