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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.

Was A Basketball Coach’s Age In The Minds Of Management When They Decided To Fire Him?


Through decades of experience representing age discrimination victims, our age discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida have learned that proving an employee was fired because of his or her age turns on the question of the employer’s motive. As the U.S. Supreme Court explained in Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins,  507 U.S. 604 (1993), liability for age discrimination depends on whether the employee’s age “actually motivated the employer’s decision.” To prove an age-based discriminatory discharge claim, as the Biggins  Court determined, an employee must show his or her age “actually played a role” in the decision-making process and “had a determinative influence on the outcome.”

As observed the Supreme Court in United States Postal Serv. Bd. of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711 (1983), “[t]here will seldom be ‘eyewitness’ testimony as to the employer’s mental processes.” Consequently, as the court in Riordan v. Kempiners, 831 F.2d 690 (7th Cir. 1987) pointed out, proving an employer’s discriminatory motive is difficult because employers “of even minimal sophistication will neither admit discriminatory animus nor leave a paper trail demonstrating it.”  Indeed, as the court in Kline v. Tennessee Valley Authority, 128 F.3d 337 (6th Cir. 1997) noted, “[i]t is the rare situation when direct evidence of discrimination is readily available,” and, as a result, “victims of employment discrimination are permitted to establish their cases through inferential and circumstantial proof.”

In some age discrimination cases, however, an employee has both direct and circumstantial evidence that his or her age actually played a role in the termination decision and had a determinative influence on the outcome. In this article, our race discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida explain how the alleged facts in Howell v. Northwest Community College, 2024 WL 1611897 (N.D. Miss. April 15, 2024) are an example of the rare situation where an employee has both direct and circumstantial evidence that the employee’s age was in the minds of the decision-makers when they made the termination decision.

Protection From Age Discrimination

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) protects employees from discrimination on the basis of age. Discrimination on the basis of age is forbidden in all aspects of employment, including hiring, compensation, training, promotion, discipline, layoff, and discharge. The ADEA mandates, as the Supreme Court in Western Air Lines, Inc. v. Criswell, 472 U.S. 400 (1985) determined, that “employers are to evaluate older employees on their merits and not their age.” As the Biggins Court explained, “it is the very essence of age discrimination for an older employee to be fired because the employer believes that productivity and competence decline with age.”

Age Discrimination Lawsuit

In Howell, a man named Howell brought an age discrimination claim against his former employer, Northwest Mississippi Community College (“NWMCC”), under the ADEA. Howell alleges that NWMCC terminated his employment because of his age in violation of the ADEA.

In 2011, Howell was hired as an assistant basketball coach at NWMCC. Howell worked in that position for eight years. Howell was later promoted to Head Coach of the women’s basketball team. In May 2022, Howell was given notice that his employment contract would not be renewed for the following season. In providing reasons for its decision NWMCC cited a number of factors, including allegations of sexual harassment against Howell and disputes Howell had with campus police. Howel was fifty-nine years old at the time of his firing. Howell was replaced by an individual in his thirties.

In support of his age discrimination claim, Howell submitted an affidavit from a man named Essary, who was the parent of one of Howell’s players. In that affidavit, Essary asserts that one of the relevant decision-makers regarding Howell’s firing, the interim Athletic Director, specifically told him that NWMCC was firing Howell because it was “going in a different direction” and was going to hire a “younger coach.” The alleged statement by the interim Athletic Director was made just after Howell was fired.

Evidence Of Age Discrimination

NWMCC filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Howell’s age discrimination claim. In denying NWMCC’s motion for dismissal, the trial court determined that the interim Athletic Director’s alleged statement to Essary that NWMCC was going to hire a “younger coach” constituted direct evidence of age discrimination and was sufficient, standing alone, to allow Howell to proceed to a jury trial on his age discrimination claim.

In denying NWMCC’s motion for dismissal, the trial court also found that Howell had presented circumstantial evidence of age discrimination and that his evidence was also sufficient to enable Howell to proceed to a jury trial on his age discrimination claim. The trial court observed that Howell testified that NWMCC’s President expressed surprise when he learned how old Howell was. More specifically, Howell testified that the President asked Howell his age. Howell claims that when he disclosed his age, the President exclaimed, “Wow, I didn’t know you were that old.” The trial court reasoned that this evidence, “if accepted as truthful by jurors, may well make them more likely to concluded that [Howell’s] age figured prominently in the minds of [NWMCC’s] decision-makers when they decided to fire him.”

Free Consultation For Age Discrimination Victims

One of the most important decisions age discrimination victims must make is which age discrimination attorneys to consult with regarding their legal rights and remedies as an age discrimination victim. As part of our continuing 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.

Citrus County Age Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our age discrimination attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have fought for the rights of age discrimination victims for more than two decades. If you have experienced age discrimination in the workplace or have questions about your protection from age discrimination under federal employment law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our age discrimination lawyers in Citrus 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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