Employment-Fifth Circuit Rules That An ADEA Claim May Be Brought Based On A Hostile Work Environment

In Dediol v. Best Chevrolet, Incorporated, No. 10-30767 (Fifth Cir. 2011), the plaintiff, Milan Dediol (“Dediol”), was appealing the district court’s grant of summary judgment for his former employer, defendant Best Chevrolet, Incorporated (“Best Chevrolet”).

Dediol was employed at Best Chevrolet from June 1, 2007, until August 30, 2007. During his tenure, he worked directly under Donald Clay (“Clay”), Best Chevrolet’s Used Car Sales Manager. Dediol was 65 years old during his employment with Best Chevrolet. Dediol alleges that, on July 3, 2007, friction surfaced between him and Clay when he requested permission to take off from work for the next morning–July 4, 2007–to volunteer at a church event. Dediol received permission from Clay’s assistant manager, Tommy Melady (“Melady”), but Clay overruled Melady using derogatory words, laced with explatives. Dediol claims that, after July 4, Clay referred to Dediol using derogatory names (e.g., “Old Man” and “Pops”), made comments related to Dediol’s religion and threated, intimidated and provoked fights with Dediol, in the presence of Melady and other employees. Dediol stopped coming to work after August 30, 2007, and was terminated for abandoning his job. He eventually brought this suit.

One claim Dediol made was age discrimination, under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the “ADEA”), based on the hostile work environment at Best Chevrolet. The Court adopted the rule, for the Fifth Circuit, that such a claim is viable. It stated that a plaintiff may make out a prima facie claim of age discrimination under the ADEA by establishing that: (1) he was over the age of 40; (2) he was subjected to harassment, either through words or actions, based on age; (3) the nature of the harassment was such that it created an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment; and (4) there exists some basis for liability on the part of the employer. As to prong (3), a plaintiff must demonstrate that the harassment was objectively unreasonable. A workplace environment is hostile when it is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that is sufficiently pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment. This environment must appear hostile or abusive to a reasonable person. The Court ruled that Dediol had established a prima facie case of an ADEA violation under the 4 prong test, and overturned the district court’s grant of summary judgment against him on this point.