Employment-Eighth Circuit Rules That Plaintiff Has Offered Sufficient Evidence To Avoid Summary Judgment On His Claim Of Age Discrimination

In Ridout v. JBS USA, LLC, No. 12-3220 (8th Cir. 2013), the plaintiff Lyle Ridout (“Ridout”) was appealing the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant JBS USA, LLC (“JBS”) on Ridout’s claim of age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the “ADEA”). In this case, Ridout, a rendering superintendent at a pork processing plant owned by JBS, was discharged by JBS after an incident arising from an equipment failure, and was later replaced by two employees substantially younger than he. This suit ensued.

In analyzing the case, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) noted that the summary judgment will be overturned if Ridout has produced sufficient evidence to allow a rational jury to find in his favor. Upon reviewing the case, Court ruled that Ridout had produced such evidence. The Court applied the McDonnell Douglas test, under which (1) the plaintiff has the burden of establishing a prima facie case of age discrimination, (2) if the plaintiff is successful, the burden of the case shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its actions, and (3) if the employer succeds, the burden of the case returns to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the employer’s proffered reason for its actions is a mere pretext for age discrimination.

Here, the case has reached prong (3). As to prong (2), JBS had met its burden of articulating a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for Ridout’s termination, by offering evidence that the termination was due to his declining performance and insubordination. However, the Court ruled that Ridout has made a sufficient showing that JBS’s proffered reasons are a mere pretext for age discrimination, by offering evidence that: (a) he was meeting JBL’s expectations as to his performance, (b) termination was not JBL’s policy for the type of insubordination of which Ridout was accused, (c) younger employees exhibiting the same or worse conduct as Ridout had been treated more leniently, and (d) a number of older workers were terminated at the same time as Ridout. As a result, summary judgment is avoided, and the Court overturned the district court’s decision and remanded the case back to the district court.