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Age stereotype precludes summary judgment February 13, 2015

stereotypes-150x150The Eighth Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment in Hilde v. City of Eveleth, February 5, 2105, finding that the employer’s assumption that a retirement-eligible applicant would retire if hired for a job was age discrimination on its face.

To assume that Hilde was uncommited to a position because his age made him retirement-eligible is age-stereotyping that the ADEA prohibits. 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 old age. he prohibited stereotype—older employees are likely to be less committed to a job because they can retire at any time—figured in the City’s decision. Using retirement eligibility to presuppose lowered productivity or dedication would not represent an accurate judgment about the employee unless evidence other than age indicates that the employee would, in fact, retire.

The City provides no evidence that the commissioners doubted Hilde’s commitment to the job for any reason but for his age-based retirement eligiblity. They admit he had a great reputation in the force and they held his continued service in the highest regard. The City argues that Hilde should have convinced them that though retirement eligible, he would not retire. According to Commissioner England:

I would have appreciated something out of [Hilde], some indication that he wanted this job and was willing to commit for at least some period of time. By not telling us anything, now you’re thinking in your mind, what’s this guy thinking, what’s he doing. If he gets the Chief’s job, he’s just going to take it and that’s going to be a feather in his hat and he’s going to pull the trigger and retire? I would have liked some commitment out of the guy.

The commissioners apparently never asked about his commitment to the job or whether he was considering retirement.

Lesson for employers: Use employee-specific facts, not unfounded, category-based assumptions, in making employment decisions.

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