Supreme Court of Washington Rules in Favor of College in Age Discrimination Suit

Charles W. Miller & Associates

Last week, the Supreme Court of Washington State ruled in favor of Clark College in an age discrimination suit brought against the college by a professor employed by the college. The Court ruled that the professor did not meet the requirements necessary to establish discrimination.

The Background of the Case 
In 1994, the plaintiff started teaching English as an adjunct professor at the college. After about nine years, she applied for a tenured position. In addition to the plaintiff’s application, Clark College received 151 other applications, and it subsequently screened 13 of the candidates during a teaching demonstration. They then recommended the four screened individuals to the president and vice-president of the department.

The plaintiff was 55 at the time of the interview and was one of the four candidates chosen to be recommended to the president. The college did not hire the plaintiff and instead hired two other individuals who were younger than 40 years old.

The President of Clark College made comments that no experience would be needed for positions in the English department and that there was a “glaring need” for young faculty.
The plaintiff alleged that the college hired mainly individuals under the age of 40 and that fewer than half of those under the age of 40 were given tenured positions.

The college countered that 74% of its entire workforce is over 40 years old and that the individuals hired were a better fit than the plaintiff. They also gave other reasons that the plaintiff did not perform to their standard during her teaching demonstrations. However, the plaintiff claimed that they discriminated against her mainly because of her age and brought suit against the college.

Bringing an Age Discrimination Suit 
Throughout the country, it is generally illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of his or her age. An individual between the ages of 40 and 70 may bring an age discrimination suit if the facts give rise to an inference of discrimination.

A plaintiff in an age discrimination suit must establish that his or her age was the most “substantial factor” in the adverse employment action taken by his or her employer. The substantial factor basically means that age was given the most considerable amount of weight in making the employment decision. It is important to note that it does not need to be the only factor, just the most motivating one.

Burden of Bringing an Age Discrimination Case 
It is important to have an experienced attorney in bringing an age discrimination suit because the plaintiff must be able to make out a viable case for discrimination. He or she must be able to establish that:

  • He or she is a member of the protected class;
  • He or she was negatively affected by an employment action, such as not being selected for a promotion; and
  • The employer took the action because of the employee’s age.

Even if a plaintiff can establish these factors, the employer has the opportunity to rebut the claim by showing that there was a nondiscriminatory and legal reason for the negative employment action.

However, if a defendant does establish the nondiscriminatory reason, the plaintiff then has the opportunity to prove that the alleged reason was a “pretext.” This means that the reason that the defendant is now giving was not the actual reason for the negative action when it was taken.

In the above case, the plaintiff was able to meet the first step in the framework by meeting the age and adverse action requirements. However, the employer was then able to show a legitimate reason. The problem arose when the plaintiff tried to establish the “pretext” prong. The Court did not find that she met that requirement and ruled in favor of the employer.

Have You or a Loved One Been Discriminated Against Because of Your Age?

If you or someone you know has been discriminated against because of your age in Kentucky, it is important to contact our office to discuss your case. If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of your age, sex, race, color, or national origin, please contact one of our experienced attorneys at (502) 890-9954 to set up a free initial consultation.

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