Employment-Eighth Circuit Finds That Plaintiff Has Established A Prima Facie Case Of Age Discrimination And That Summary Judgment Against Him Was Otherwise Inappropriate

In Johnson v. Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., No. 12-2129 (8th Cir. 2013), the plaintiff, Carlyn Johnson (“Johnson”), aged 76, was fired from his position as a security guard for Securitas Security Services USA, Inc. (“Securitas”) after he was involved in a car accident while on-duty and allegedly left his post early. Johnson filed an age discrimination claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and corresponding state law, asserting that Securitas had fired him because he was an older worker. Johnson cited evidence that prior to his termination Securitas supervisors showed age animus through negative comments regarding Johnson’s age. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Securitas, concluding that Johnson did not present a prima facie case of age discrimination. Johnson appeals.

In analyzing the case, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) said that, to make out a prima facie case of discrimination under ADEA, the plaintiff must ordinarily show that: (1) he is a member of a protected age group; (2) he was performing his job at a level that met his employer’s legitimate expectations; (3) he was discharged; and (4) he was replaced by a younger worker, or age was a factor in the discharge. Here, the Court found that Johnson satisfies elements (1) and (3) because he is over 40 and was discharged. As for element (2), the Court said that the record contains evidence from which a jury could find that Johnson was meeting Securitas’s job expectations prior to the on-site accident. As to element (4), the Court said that Johnson highlights the various comments made by a supervisor, in which he pointed to Johnson’s advanced age, compared Johnson to his elderly father, and encouraged him to retire. Furthermore, the record indicates that this supervisor may have played a role in the decision to terminate Johnson. Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to Johnson, a reasonable jury could find Securitas was motivated to terminate Johnson based on age animus. Therefore Johnson has established a prima facie case of age discrimination.

Going further, the Court found that there were at least four material facts in dispute, making summary judgment inappropriate. The Court said that, because it concluded that Johnson adduced enough admissible evidence to raise genuine doubt as to the legitimacy of Securitas’s motive for terminating him, even if that evidence did not directly contradict or disprove Securitas’s articulated reasons for its actions, summary judgment was not proper. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s decision.