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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog

Is The More Favorable Treatment Of A Younger Replacement Evidence Of Age Discrimination Against The Discharged Older Employee?

old man and young woman arm wrestling

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of age.  Having extensive experience representing employees who were discharged because of their age, our Marion County, Florida age discrimination lawyers have learned that evidence regarding the individual who replaced a discharged older employee is highly relevant in establishing a discriminatory discharge in violation of the ADEA.

The age of the individual who replaced the discharged older employee is relevant to establishing a prima facie case of age discrimination.  Showing the employer replaced a discharged older employee with a substantially younger individual is sufficient evidence to make an inference of discrimination required for a prima facie case of age discrimination.  Evidence regarding how the employer treated a substantially younger replacement is also relevant to the employer’s discriminatory intent.  Showing the employer treated a substantially younger replacement more favorably than the discharged older employee tends to prove that the older employee’s age actually motivated the employer’s termination decision.     

Although employers acknowledge that the age of a replacement is relevant to a prima facie case of age discrimination, employers maintain that evidence showing that a replacement was treated more favorably than the discharged older employee is irrelevant to whether the older employee was fired on the basis of age.  Indeed, employers almost always contend that events occurring after the employee claiming discrimination was fired are irrelevant in the employment discrimination context.  The decision by the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Acevedo-Parrilla v. Novartis Ex-Lax, Inc., 696 F.3d 128 (1st Cir. 2012) is instructive in showing that an employer’s treatment of a substantially younger replacement is highly relevant in proving a discriminatory discharge claim under the ADEA.   

Older Employee Targeted For Termination

In that case, Hernan Acevedo-Parrilla (Acevedo) claimed that his former employer, Novartis Ex-Lax, Inc. (Novartis), fired him on the basis of age in violation of the ADEA.  Acevedo was employed by Novartis for 31 years.  Acevedo held the position of Maintenance and Engineering Manager at the company’s plant in Puerto Rico.  In this position, Acevedo was responsible for keeping the plant’s facilities in optimum condition.  For most of his career at Novartis, Acevedo received positive performance reviews and performance bonuses.

Three years before his termination, Acevedo was placed under the management of a Site Leader named Ceinos.  Acevedo produced evidence that Ceinos sought to replace the company’s older employees.  For example, Ceinos asked a human resources employee to investigate the “inclinations of employees who had reached retirement age” to determine their plans regarding leaving the company.  According to the human resources employee, the request was part of Ceinos’ plan to replace employees who were of retirement age.  Moreover, after Ceinos became Site Leader, the company hired approximately 140 employees, 114 of whom were less than 40 years of age.  In that same period, the company fired 17 employees, 15 of whom were older than 40. 

Younger Replacement Treated Better

Immediately after he became Site Leader, Ceinos also began subjecting Acevedo to disciplinary action for sanitation violations.  The disciplinary actions eventually led to Acevedo’s termination for failing to maintain sanitary conditions in the plant.  Novartis hired a 34-year old individual to replace Acevedo.  Just as Acevedo had before her, the replacement reported directly to Ceinos.  During her tenure as Maintenance and Engineering Manager, the replacement was responsible for similar sanitation violations that resulted in Acevedo’s termination, including “a string of incidents” in which animals, insects, and rats entered the plant.  Unlike with Acevedo, Ceinos did not reprimand, discipline, or discharge the replacement for failure to maintain sanitary conditions.

Better Treatment Of Replacement Is Evidence Age Discrimination

The trial court dismissed Acevedo’s age discrimination claim.  On appeal, the First Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision and reinstated Acevedo’s age discrimination claim.  In doing so, the appellate court relied heavily on Novartis’ different and more favorable of the substantially younger replacement.  Although both Acevedo and his replacement were responsible for failing to maintain sanitary conditions in the plant, Ceinos only subjected Acevedo to disciplinary action and termination.  From this evidence, the appellate court found, a jury could “infer that the difference in Ceinos’ treatment of Acevedo” and the much younger replacement tended to prove Novartis’ “discriminatory animus toward Acevedo.”  Indeed, according to the appellate court, the difference in treatment exposed the “pretextual nature” of Novartis proffered reason for firing Acevedo and revealed that Novartis “true motivation was age discrimination.”  Consequently, the First Circuit concluded that Acevedo had produced sufficient evidence to establish that age discrimination was the true reason behind his termination and Acevedo was entitled to present his age discrimination claim to a jury for resolution. 

Free Consultation With Marion County Age Discrimination Lawyers 

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have almost twenty years of experience representing employees who have been unlawfully discharged on the basis of age.  If you have been the victim of age discrimination or have questions being treated differently than younger employees, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Marion County, Florida age discrimination attorneys.  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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