Over the long holiday weekend, the Fifth Circuit issued the first EEO case of the year, one that points up an important federal pleading lesson in the era of Iqbal and Twombly. To wit, if you anticipate seeking a default judgment, make sure that your discrimination complaint is as complete as possible. The Fifth Circuit holds (2-1), in a matter of first impression, that deficiencies in a complaint cannot be cured by live testimony in a default judgment hearing. The court concludes, in the present case, that while the plaintiff presented a plausible case of age discrimination at the hearing, the complaint itself was insufficient to support the judgment.
The Eighth Circuit, en banc (9-3), today affirms summary judgment in an ADEA case. The surprise is not so much in the outcome as the vote split, which is not along ordinary lines. In second case, a panel reverses (in part) summary judgment on another ADEA claim, finding that pointed inquiries into an employee's Medicare eligibility and health-plan costs were probative evidence of age bias.
Courts sometimes get confused about who, in our American system of civil justice, gets to decide whether an adverse employment decision was taken because of the employee's age. That decision belongs to a jury. So even if the employer might have had a very good and non-discriminatory reason for eliminating a position, when the principal decision maker also tells the terminated employee that "you didn't come here to work, you came here to retire," it is the jury - not the judge - that is allowed to decide whether it's age discrimination.
As recently noted here (see entry for January 26, 2014), the U.S. Courts of Appeals are just now deciding the next generation of disabilities-discrimination law cases governed by the 2008 Americans With Disabilities Act amendments (ADAAA). Here, the Eleventh Circuit notes - in a case reversing summary judgment for an employee in chronic pain - that some of its prior, more restrictive case law must now be reconsidered. (And, as an added bonus, the employee also earns a reversal of his age discrimination claim.)
The Seventh Circuit continues on its march toward sensible decision-making in employment discrimination cases, reversing dismissal of an ADEA case and reaffirming that an employee may survive summary judgment by any combination of evidence "that a rational jury could conclude" proves "that the employer took the adverse action against the plaintiff because he is a member of a protected class." The evidence included a deposition admission by the CEO that the company hired a new replacement salesman in his 20s because "he was a young individual" and, though inexperienced, "our thought process on him was he was a young guy, give him a shot [to] drive around the state showing fire trucks and learn the business."
summary judgment motions and appeals in employment discrimination cases often ask, at their core, whether a jury should be empanelled to weigh conflicting evidence (and inferences) and decide whether a supervisor involved in a termination decision harbored a biased motive. Here, where a fired 76-year-old security guard presented evidence that his supervisor told him that he "needed to hang up his Superman cape" and was "too old to be working," at least two of the three judges thought that a jury should decide that question.
The Sixth Circuit demolishes a popular defense tactic by employers in discrimination cases, holding that district courts should not readily entertain motions in limine to exclude evidence that are often filed after summary judgment motions fail. The panel holds that such motions often intrude on the jury's role as fact-finder, while denying employees the procedural protections of summary judgment. The court reverses the exclusion of evidence of comparative employees and remands an age and national-origin discrimination case for trial.
In a review of a $17 million jury verdict in an age discrimination case (significantly reduced by the district court judge), the Fifth Circuit issues an important decision about who gets to decide the award for future pension benefits - the bench or jury - and whether the monetary equivalent of such benefits is subject to doubling as "liquidated damages" under the ADEA. It also deviates from recent case law of other circuits in holding that a $100,000 emotional distress damage award cannot be sustained without medical testimony.
An employee with a 31-year history is fired at age 56 for allegedly failing to maintain sanitary conditions in a pharmaceutical plant, and sues for age discrimination under the ADEA in Puerto Rico law. Reversing summary judgment, the First Circuit finds relevant events that occurred after the employee was fired, particularly that his 34-year-old replacement was not fired after similar violations - including "a string of incidents occurred in which animals, including numerous insects, a lizard, and rats, entered the plant."
Several federal circuits have held that state (and other public) employees cannot seek relief for age discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, because the ADEA supposedly provides the exclusive remedy for such claims. Yet the Seventh Circuit steps surprisingly out-of-line, and holds that § 1983 claims may be brought to vindicate the federal constitutional right of Equal Protection against arbitrary age-based classifications, independently of the ADEA. It further holds that state agency heads cannot necessarily hide behind qualified immunity to avoid a lawsuit.