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How Do Older Workers Show They Were Targeted For Termination Because Of Age?

Cubes form words Too young or too old. Concept of age discrimination - social problem

Throughout the past twenty years, our Marion County, Florida wrongful termination lawyers have represented workers who have been wrongfully terminated in violation of federal employment discrimination law. Based on decades of experiencing handling employment discrimination cases, our Ocala, Florida wrongful termination lawyers know that older employees often believe they were targeted for termination because of their age. In the absence of age-based discriminatory remarks in the workplace, the most common way for older workers to show they were targeted for termination because of their age is through evidence that they were treated differently and less favorably from younger employees.

In most cases, the differences in treatment occur in an employer’s application of company work rules or policies. For example, an employer terminates an older worker for violating a work rule but does not terminate younger employees who violate the same work rule. Under such circumstances, the employer’s different and less favorable treatment of the older employee is evidence of the employer’s age-based discriminatory motive. In this article, our Marion County, Florida wrongful termination lawyers explain how the decision in Tracy v. Suncor Energy (USA), Inc., Case No. 20-cv-01597 (D. Colo. Aug. 30, 2022) illustrates that when an employer treats an older worker differently and less favorably than a younger employee when enforcing work rules, the difference in treatment is evidence that the older employee was targeted for termination because of age.

Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

In that case, a man named Tracy brought an age discrimination claim against his former employer, Suncor Energy (USA), Inc. (Suncor), pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The ADEA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of age. Tracy claims that Suncor terminated his employment because of his age in violation of the ADEA. At the time of his termination, Tracy was fifty-eight years old.

Tracy worked for Suncor as the team lead for construction at Suncor’s Commerce City Refinery (CCR) before his termination in 2018. At the CCR, tools and equipment that are no longer usable become “scrap.” In April 2018, Suncor was contacted by a third-party recycling company and informed that a Suncor employee, Chavez, was involved in “excessive” scrap-metal recycling. Then, in September 2018, Suncor’s maintenance director, Ping, informed the manager of turnaround and construction, Herrick, that “contractors had been recycling scrap metal without authorization.” Suncor launched an investigation into the scrap metal recycling scheme and retained an outside investigator, Lipka, to lead the investigation.

Lipka collected his investigative findings into a report. The report “did not recommend any disciplinary action, but instead made factual findings.” With respect to Tracy, the report states, that by Tracy’s own admission, “he approved 2012 wire scrapping when requested by Chavez and 2013 motor scrapping when requested” by another Suncor employee. The report further states that Tracy had ongoing knowledge and awareness of the scrap metal recycling activity but did not attempt to stop the activity or inform management of the activity. Tracy disputes the accuracy of that finding. Tracy was found to have violated Suncor’s Accounting, Reporting, and Business Control Policy Guidance & Standard (PG & S) and its Cash Handling PG & S. Another individual, Cooper, worked at Suncor as a manager of maintenance from approximately September 2016 through May 2016. Cooper was found to have violated the Accounting, Reporting, and Business Control PG & S and the Cash Handling PG & S.

Following Lipka’s investigation, the CCR vice president determined the appropriate discipline for each employee. Tracy was terminated from his employment with Suncor, while Cooper was placed on a performance improvement plan and lost his bonus for the year. Cooper was thirty-six years old at the time of Tracy’s termination.

Evidence Of Wrongful Termination

Suncor filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Tracy’s age discrimination claim. In moving for dismissal, Suncor argued that the evidence established that it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for Tracy’s termination—namely, that it determined through its investigation that Tracy “had approved on multiple occasions, an illegal recycling program” through which Suncor “lost significant sums of money for many years (since at least 2012).” The trial court denied Suncor’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Tracy had presented sufficient evidence to establish that he was fired because of his age in violation of the ADEA to proceed to a jury trial

In denying Suncor’s motion for dismissal, the trial court focused on evidence that Suncor treated Tracy differently and less favorably from a younger employee—Cooper. The trial court observed that Tracy and Cooper “were found to have run afoul of the same workplace standards of conduct—the Accounting, Reporting, and Business Control PG & S and the Cash Handling PG & S.” Although Suncor terminated Tracy’s employment, Cooper was only placed on a performance improvement plan and lost his bonus for the year. Based on evidence that Tracy was “disciplined differently” from a substantially younger employee, the trail court concluded, a reasonable jury could find that Tracy’s age “was the reason that the employer decided to act.”

Marion County Wrongful Termination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our wrongful termination lawyers in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of wrongful termination victims. If you have been wrongfully fired or have questions about your rights as a wrongful termination victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our wrongful termination lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes wrongful termination 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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