Employment-First Circuit Rules That Plaintiff Produced Sufficient Evidence To Avoid Summary Judgment On His Age Discrimination Claim

In Acevedo-Parrilla v. Norvatis Ex-Lax, Inc., No. 10-2276 (1st Cir. 2012), the plaintiff, Hernán Acevedo-Parrilla (“Acevedo”), was appealing the district court’s award of summary judgment to his former employer, Norvatis Ex-Lax, Inc. ( “the Company”), on his claims that his job was terminated due to age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the “ADEA”).

In analyzing the case, the First Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) said that, to establish the occurrence of age discrimination in violation of the ADEA, under the McDonnell Douglas framework used for such purposes: (1) the plaintiff must make out a prima facie case of the violation, (2) if the plaintiff succeeds, the employer then has the burden of producing a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the job termination, and (3) if the employer succeeds, the plaintiff then must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer’s alleged nondiscriminatory reason was in fact a pretext for discrimination. Here, the Court found that the case got by (1) and (2). But what about (3)?

The Court said that, for a plaintiff to avoid summary judgment at stage (3), he must have provided minimally sufficient evidence that the termination of his employment was motivated by age discrimination. The Court found that the record contains sufficient evidence from which a jury could conclude that the Company’s reason for terminating Acevedo was pretextual, and that the true reason for his termination was discrimination based on his age. In reaching this conclusion, the Court pointed to: (a) inconsistencies between the Company’s stated reasons for terminating Acevedo and Acevedo’s performance record at the Company, (b) a lack of credibility that may be ascribed by a jury to certain of the Company’s justifications for dismissal, and, most importantly to the Court, (c) the fact that in response to arguably similar conduct by Acevedo’s younger replacement, the Company took no disciplinary action. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment, and remanded the case back to the district court.