The scenario: When a 58-year-old white man told his boss that he was thinking about applying for a promotion, he was told that he wouldn’t have a shot at the job because he was an “old, white man with not enough runway left in his career.”
Nevertheless, the man applied for the job, but he was turned down and told that the person in the position would need to be able to adapt and move, which was “unlikely to happen with a 58-year-old white guy.”
Around the same time, the employer instituted a reduction in force (RIF) that led to the man’s termination. In fact, all 11 dismissed workers were white, male and more than 50 years old. The RIF was initiated, said the employer, because of financial difficulties.
However, before the older worker actually left the job, he was included in an email chain that said the employer had a solid third quarter.
Legal challenge: The male staffer sued for age discrimination, pointing out that he’d consistently received positive performance reviews before his dismissal and that the financial difficulties that prompted his termination weren’t real.
The ruling: The company lost. The court said the man’s lawsuit could proceed. The judge pointed to the ageist comments endured by the worker as potential proof of bias. Plus, the court shot holes in the stated reason for the termination, noting that the company was claiming financial hardship at the same time it was reporting solid quarterly results.
The skinny: Beware of the risks posed by inconsistent explanations for terminations. In this case, the employer claimed financial hardship to justify the firing, even though it had solid quarterly numbers.
Cite: DiBenedetto v. AT&T Services, U.S. District Court, N.D. Georgia, No. 1:21-cv-04527-MHC-RDC, 5/19/22.
(From the July 1, 2022, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)