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December 2013: Madia Law beats summary judgment and settles age discrimination case

Madia Law settled an age discrimination case on behalf of “Joan” after defeating her former employer’s motion for summary judgment.

The terms are confidential pursuant to the parties’ settlement agreement.

This case presented a challenge because “Joan” did not have direct evidence of age discrimination.  None of her supervisors ever made any comments to her about her age (she was 55 years old at the time of her termination), nor were any emails revealed during discovery that made any reference to her age.  Joan’s employer therefore believed that it had a strong chance to dismiss Joan’s case by summary judgment.

However, Joan had strong indirect evidence of age discrimination.  First, in the same month that her employer terminated her employment, it removed a 54 year old and 63 year old from their positions (both were in Joan’s department).  Second, the employer replaced all three of them with significantly younger individuals.  Third, and most importantly, the employer’s reason for discharging Joan appeared to be pretextual.  The employer claimed that it fired Joan because her performance did not meet expectations.  However, in Joan’s performance review – given just one month before the employer decided to terminate her – the employer stated that Joan was meeting and, in fact, exceeding all performance expectations.

Employment law recognizes that very few employers will offer direct evidence of discrimination through discriminatory comments or emails, even if the real reason for their actions stems from discriminatory animus.  Therefore, the law allows employees to demonstrate unlawful discrimination by providing evidence that the employer’s stated reason for its action is untrue.  Federal and Minnesota courts reason that, if an employer has provided a false reason for its action, a likely explanation is that the employer is trying to cover up the real reason for its action – discrimination.

In Joan’s case, the employer’s own performance review of Joan did not support its stated reason for termination.  The Hennepin County District Court therefore denied summary judgment to the employer and ordered a jury trial.  The case settled shortly thereafter.