Employment-Eighth Circuit Finds That Plaintiff’s Evidence Of An ADEA Violation Is Sufficient To Overturn Summary Judgment Against Her Granted By Lower Court

In Baker v. Silver Oak Senior Living Management Co., No. 08-1036 (8th Cir. 2009), the plaintiff, Kathy Baker, was terminated, at age 53, from her position as director of an assisted living center operated by defendants, Silver Oak Senior Living Management Company, L.C. and Equi-Management Services, Ltd. (collectively, “Silver Oak”). She brought this suit, alleging that she was terminated because of her age, and because she opposed age discrimination, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and the corresponding non-discrimination requirements of Missouri law. The lower court had granted summary judgment against the plaintiff and dismissed her claims.

In analyzing the case, the Court reviewed whether the plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue for trial on the question of age discrimination. The Court concluded that the plaintiff had done so, thereby presenting a submissible case of age discrimination under ADEA. In so concluding, the Court noted that the plaintiff had presented evidence of statements by superiors at Silver Oak, who had participated in the decision to terminate her, evincing a preference for the employment of younger workers over persons in the class protected by ADEA. One such statement was that Silver Oak was “missing the boat by not hiring more younger, vibrant people,” and that employees “should start looking over applications better and try to consider hiring younger people”. Another such statement was a direction to the plaintiff to fire certain workers in their 50s and 60s, so that Silver Oak could hire “younger workers” who would be “better workers, have more energy, be more enthusiastic and stimulate the residents.” A reasonable jury could take these statements to reflect a discriminatory attitude, biased against older workers, by those who participated in the plaintiff’s termination. The plaintiff offered other evidence to support to her age discrimination claim. For example, after refusing directions from a superior to discipline older workers, the superior placed her on probation for questionable reasons. There was also evidence that Silver Oak gave changing and questionable explanations as to why the plaintiff had been terminated.

The Court likewise concluded that the plaintiff had presented a submissible case of age discrimination under Missouri law. The Court overturned the summary judgment granted against the plaintiff by the district court, and remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings.