• Key point 8-07. Employees and applicants for employment who believe that an employer has violated a federal civil rights law must pursue their claim according to a specific procedure. Failure to do so will result in the dismissal of their claim.
• Key point 8-09. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employers with 20 or more employees, and engaged in interstate commerce, from discriminating in any employment decision on the basis of the age of an employee or applicant for employment who is 40 years of age or older. The Act does not exempt religious organizations. Many states have similar laws that often apply to employers having fewer than 20 employees. Labor Laws
A federal court in Puerto Rico ruled that a church agency did not commit age discrimination by terminating a 48-year-old employee whose performance evaluations consistently rated his work as “poor” and whose position was eliminated when his department was relocated. A male employee (“Robert”) was hired as an accountant by a church agency when he was 35 years of age. Several years later, Robert was demoted because of continuing complaints about the quality of his work. He was paid the same salary as his former position, however. A few years after his demotion, Robert was dismissed when the accounting department was transferred to another city. At the time of his dismissal Robert was 48 years old. Robert never filed an age discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), though EEOC notices had been posted at his place of employment informing employees of the illegality of age discrimination and advising them to contact the EEOC if they thought they were victims of discrimination. Despite this notice, Robert’s first and only effort to challenge his dismissal was the filing of an age discrimination lawsuit in federal court in 1995.
A federal court dismissed Robert’s age discrimination lawsuit on the ground that he failed to comply with EEOC procedure requiring the filing of unlawful discrimination complaints with the EEOC (and the corresponding state agency) within 300 days “after the alleged unlawful practice occurred.” Such a “notice” of discrimination is a prerequisite to the filing of a civil lawsuit. The court also ruled that even if Robert had filed a complaint with the EEOC within the 300-day limit, his case still would have been dismissed because he failed to prove that he was dismissed on account of his age. The court noted that (1) “The record in this case lacks any direct evidence demonstrating that Robert was a victim of age discrimination.” (2) Robert’s performance evaluations consistently rated his work as “poor.” (3) Robert was not replaced by a younger person. Rather, his job was eliminated.
Application. This case illustrates that age discrimination requires proof that age was the basis for an adverse employment decision. An employer that dismisses an employee who is 40 years of age or older (the protected class under federal age discrimination law) will not be guilty of age discrimination if it can prove a nondiscriminatory basis for its action. In this case, the court concluded that the church agency proved three nondiscriminatory bases, any one of which would have been sufficient to refute the charge of age discrimination: (1) a lack of any direct evidence demonstrating that Robert was a victim of age discrimination; (2) Robert’s performance evaluations consistently rated his work as “poor”; and (3) Robert was not replaced by a younger person. Rather, his job was eliminated. Soto v. Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 73 F.Supp.2d 116 (D. Puerto Rico 1999).
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