In Tramp v. Associated Underwriters, Inc., No. 13-2546 (8th Cir. 2014), Marjorie Tramp appeals from the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of her former employer Associated Underwriters, Inc., on Tramp’s claims of, among other things, wrongful termination on the basis of age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the “ADEA”). Upon reviewing the case, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”), overturned the district court’s judgment, ruled that Tramp has presented a submissible case of age discrimination for determination by a fact-finder, and remanded the case back to the district court on that basis.
Why did the Court so rule on the ADEA issue? The Court noted that Tramp claims that Associated Underwriters terminated her because her age affected its employee health insurance costs. The Court said that, to prevail on a claim under the ADEA, Tramp must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (which may be direct or circumstantial) that age was the `but-for’ cause of the challenged employer decision. To so prove this point, Tramp must first establish a four-part prima facie case of age discrimination by showing that: (1) she is over 40 years old, (2) she met the applicable job qualifications, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) there is some additional evidence that age was a factor in the employer’s termination decision. Once Tramp establishes a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its adverse employment action. If the employer does so, Tramp must show that the employer’s proffered reason was pretext for discrimination. At all times, Tramp retains the burden of persuasion to prove that age was the `but-for’ cause of the termination.
As to the prima facie case, the Court said that Tramp has established elements (1) to (3) and that only element (4) is in question. Here, Associated Underwriters’ may have terminated Tramp to reduce health care costs. In turn, termination to effect such reduction may have been a proxy for termination due to age. That is for the finder of fact to determine. Thus, the Court concluded that Tramp made out her prima facie case, and remanding the case back to the district court is appropriate.