Can Workers Still Prove Age Discrimination When Factors Other Than Age Influenced The Employment Decision?
Having litigated age discrimination cases in Florida courts for more than two decades, our age discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida know that a common employment law myth is that to succeed on a claim of age discrimination, employees must show that age was the only factor in the employer’s decision-making process. In perpetuating this employment law myth, employers routinely argue that age discrimination claims fail as a matter of law if factors other than age influenced the employment decision. In other words, according to employers, age must be the sole motivating factor in an employment decision. In this article, our age discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida explain how the decision in Scribner v. Durango Coca-Cola Bottling Co., Case No. 23-cv-01263 (D. Colo. Oct. 24, 2023) demonstrates employees are not required to prove that an employer was motivated solely by age when making an employment decision.
Protection From Age Discrimination
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) protects employees from age discrimination. The ADEA, like other employment discrimination statutes, includes a causation requirement. The ADEA prohibits employers from discriminating against any employee with respect to the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment “because of” such employee’s age. The ADEA, however, does not define the phrase “because of.” As a result of the textual vacuum created by the ADEA’s failure to define the phrase “because of,” employers have long argued that employees must establish that their age was sole motivating factor in an employment decision to satisfy the ADEA’s “because of” age requirement. Unless an employee’s age was the sole motivating factor or the only reason for the employment decision, according to employers, the ADEA’s “because of” age requirement is not satisfied, and the age discrimination claimant’s case must be dismissed.
Courts have consistently rejected employers’ attempts to require age discrimination claimants to prove that the employer was motivated solely by age when making an employment decision. By way of example, the court in Jones v. Oklahoma City Public Schools, 617 F.3d 1273 (10th Cir. 2010) ruled that the ADEA’s “because of” age language “does not require [employees] to show that age was the sole motivating factor in the employment decision.” “Instead,” the Jones court explained, “an employer may be held liable under the ADEA if other factors contributed to its taking adverse employment action, so long as age was the factor that made a difference.” Thus, as the Jones court observed, courts have refused to place “a heightened evidentiary requirement on ADEA [claimants] to prove that age was the sole cause of the adverse employment action.”
Scribner, however, illustrates that employers have not abandoned their persistent attempts to impose a heightened evidentiary requirement on age discrimination claimants.
Age Discrimination Lawsuit
In Scribner, a man named Scribner brought an age discrimination claim against his former employer, Durango Coca-Cola Bottling Co. (“Durango Coke”), pursuant to the ADEA. Scribner claims that he was fired because of his age in violation of the ADEA.
Scribner was employed by Durango Coke as a district sales manager. Due to staffing shortage, Scribner was required to stock shelves, which is not a task within the typical scope of a sales manager’s duties. In 2017, Scribner alleges that he had a conversation with his supervisor, in which he informed his supervisor that he felt “too old” to be performing physical work tasks outside of his job description, which are typically performed by younger employees. According to Scribner, his supervisor “agreed and responded that he also felt too old to be performing that type of work.”
Later that year, Scribner suffered a mild back strain and was treated by a workers’ compensation doctor for that injury. Scribner alleges that Durango Coke was aware of this injury, but continued to require him to do physical labor outside of the description of his sales manager position. Then, in November 2017, while performing physical tasks at work, Scribner suffered back pain with persistent spasm and intermittent leg pain. He reported his injury and received treatment from a workers’ compensation doctor.
In December 2017, Scribner returned to work with certain restrictions. Throughout 2018, Scribner’s work restrictions were periodically reduced, and Durango Coke received notice of each of these modifications. In June 2019, Durango Coke was notified by Scribner’s doctor that Scribner had reached maximum medical improvement and that Scribner’s lifting restrictions, then limited to thirty pounds, would be converted from temporary to permanent. According to Scribner, Durango Coke did not express any concern about his ability to perform the essential functions of his job, raise any concern about his work performance in general, or offer him a different role to accommodate his permanent disability.
In July 2019, Scribner was terminated on the basis that Durango Coke could not modify the district sales manager job description to accommodate Scribner’s permanent work restrictions. Scribner was 48 years old at the time of his termination. Scribner alleges that he was replaced by a “much younger, less experienced” employee. Scribner further alleges that he was “replaced by an employee in their 30’s because [Durango Coke] viewed a younger employee as being better able to perform the physical work that [Scribner] was being required to perform despite not being included in his job description.”
“Age Was The Factor That Made A Difference”
Durango Coke filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Scribner’s age discrimination claim. In moving for dismissal, Durango Coke argued that Scribner could not succeed on his age discrimination claim because his allegations made clear that reasons other than age were the cause of the termination decision. In denying Durango Coke’s motion for dismissal, the trial court rejected the argument that Sheridan was required to establish that Durango Coke was motivated solely by age when making the decision to terminate his employment. The trial court explained that “an employer may be held liable under the ADEA if other factors contributed to its taking an adverse employment action, as long as age was the factor that made a difference.” Thus, even if Sheridan’s allegations revealed that other reasons contributed to Durango Coke’s termination, the presence of those other reasons were not fatal to his ADEA claim.
Free Consultation For Discrimination Victims
One of the most important decisions age discrimination victims must make is which age discrimination attorneys to consult with regarding their rights and remedies under federal employment discrimination law. As part of our commitment 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 employees, 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 Age Discrimination Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our age discrimination attorneys in Marion County, Florida have fought for the rights of age discrimination victims for more than twenty years. If you have experienced age discrimination at work or have questions about your protection from age discrimination under federal employment discrimination law, 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.