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Age Discrimination Lawsuit Claims Worker Told Company “Was Going Through A Youth Movement”

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For more than twenty years, our age discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida have fought for the rights of age discrimination victims. Having decades of experience handling age discrimination cases, our age discrimination attorneys in Ocala, Florida know that older workers continue to face significant obstacles in their efforts to gain promotion. In far too many cases, highly qualified older employees are passed over for promotion in favor of less qualified younger employees. In this article, our age discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida explain how the alleged facts in Waggoner v. Frito-Lay, Inc., Case No. 22-3111 (10th Cir. April 17, 2023) illustrate the systemic barriers older workers continue to encounter when seeking advancement.

Age Discrimination Lawsuit

In that case, a man named Waggoner brought an age discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, Frito-Lay, Inc. (Frito-Lay), pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The ADEA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of age. As the U.S. Supreme Court explained in Western Air Lines, Inc. v. Criswell,  472 U.S. 400 (1985), the ADEA mandates that “employers are to evaluate older employees on their merits and not their age.” Under the ADEA, employees are protected from discrimination on the basis of age with respect to the entire spectrum of the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, including hiring, demotion, promotion, compensation, and termination. Waggoner claims that he was denied promotion because of his age in violation of the ADEA.

Waggoner began his employment at Frito-Lay’s Topeka, Kansas plant as a part-time sanitation worker in 2004, while he was in college. After graduation, he continued working at the Topeka plant, receiving promotions in 2005, 2008, and 2011. He further advanced in 2016, with promotion to Extruded Manager and then to Process Support Manager, a level 9 manager position. However, in 2016 and 2018, when he was 37 and 38 years old respectively, he was denied promotion to three level 10 manager positions. All three openings were filled by employees in their twenties.

In June 2019, the same month he turned 40 years old, Waggoner applied for a level 10 manager position called a Processing Manager. The Site Director was the sole decision-maker for the Processing Manager position. The two candidates were Waggoner and a 27-year-old employee, Graham. After interviewing both employees, the Site Director promoted Graham.

Waggoner testified that during his interview for the Processing Manager position, the Site Director said to him, “I know historically it is know that older managers are let go, but just keep working hard and adding value.” Waggoner also testified that when the Site Director met with him to tell him he did not receive the promotion, the Site Director said, “they are going in a different direction.” According to Waggoner, when he expressed frustration that three employees he had managed (including Graham) were promoted over him, the Site Director stated that Frito-Lay “was going through a youth movement.” The Site Director denied making these remarks.

Evidence Of Age Discrimination

The trial court dismissed Waggoner’s discriminatory failure to promote claim. In doing so, the trial court essentially adopted Frito-Lay’s argument that the alleged “youth movement” comment did not manifest any age-based discriminatory intent and Waggoner’s attempt to attribute an age-based discriminatory intent to the comment amounted to nothing more than his “speculative belief that Frito-Lay did not want to promote employees over the age of 40 because of a youth movement” at the Topeka plant. In rubber-stamping Frito-Lay’s argument, the trial court discounted the alleged “youth movement” comment by declaring that Waggoner “cites nothing to show that the comment was anything other than an observation of a recent trend, as opposed to a suggestion that the company had a policy of favoring younger applicants or that [the Site Director] was suggesting he decided to promote Graham because he was younger than Waggoner.” On appeal, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and reinstated Waggoner’s discriminatory failure to promote claim.

At the outset of its opinion, the Tenth Circuit also pointed out that Waggoner claims that the Site Director made two age-based discriminatory statements. First, Waggoner alleges that the Site Director said to him, “I know historically it is known that older managers are let go, but just keep working hard and adding value.” Second, Waggoner alleges that the Site Director told him that Frito-Lay “was going through a youth movement.” For those alleged remarks to constitute evidence of age discrimination, the appellate court explained, Waggoner was required to “show a nexus between the allegedly discriminatory statements and the employer’s decision.”

In finding a nexus between the alleged age-based discriminatory comments and the promotion decision existed, the Tenth Circuit explained that Waggoner alleges that the comments were directed to him, were made by the undisputed decision-maker regarding the promotion, were made in the context of the interview for the position, and then again to explain his non-promotion. Because Waggoner had shown a nexus between the alleged age-based discriminatory remarks and the promotion decision, the court of appeals determined that the alleged remarks were evidence that Waggoner’s age was the real reason he was not promoted. Thus, the Tenth Circuit concluded that whether the Site Director “made the alleged comments, and the significance of any comments he did make, are all jury questions.”

In reversing the trial court, the Tenth Circuit further explained that the trial court improperly viewed the alleged “youth movement” comment in the light most favorable to Frito-Lay and essentially adopted Frito-Lay’s interpretation of the alleged comment. Instead of viewing the alleged comment in the light most favorable to Frito-Lay, the trial court was required to view the alleged comment in the light most favorable to Waggoner. When viewed in the light most favorable to Waggoner, the Tenth Circuit found that the alleged “youth movement” comment by the Site-Director was evidence of an age-based discriminatory intent.

Free Consultation For Discrimination Victims

After experiencing age discrimination, one of the most important decisions age discrimination victims must make is which age discrimination attorneys to consult with regarding their protection from age discrimination under federal employment discrimination law. As part of our dedication to helping age discrimination victims, an experienced age discrimination attorney will speak with you personally and you will receive the individualized attention your case deserves. We offer free confidential case evaluations for age discrimination victims, and you will not have to pay to speak with our age discrimination attorneys regarding your rights. We are available for consultation at your convenience, including scheduling telephone consultations for evenings and weekends.

Marion County, FL Age Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our age discrimination attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims. If you have encountered age discrimination at work or have questions about your rights as an age discrimination victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our age discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes age discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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