South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Circumstantial Evidence May Prove Age Discrimination
Description Appeals court held that so long as a claim of age discrimination meets the McDonnell-Douglas prima facie test, the suit may proceed. If there is not direct evidence of discriminatory intent, circumstantial evidence can be sufficient for plaintiff to prevail.
Topic Employment Discrimination
Key Words Age Discrimination; Termination; Prima Facie Case; Burden of Proof
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Machinchick worked for PB Power from 1996 to 2002. He received excellent reviews and was promoted to vice president in 1998. In 2002, he came under a new supervisor, Knowlton, at the same time the company adopted a new management scheme. Top managers were told to "hand-pick employees whose mindset resides in the 21st Century." Knowlton stated that his plan was to "strategically hire some younger engineers and designers." He criticized Machinchick as failing "to adapt to a rapidly changing business environment and a new company management style." A week later he was fired, at age 63, for poor performance, and replaced by a 42-year-old. He sued for age discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment to PB. Machinchick appealed.
Decision

Reversed and remanded. To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination here, Machinchick must show that he 1) is a member of a protected class, 2) was fired, 3) was qualified for his position, and 4) was replaced by someone younger or was otherwise discharged because of age. He has met that standard. At trial, the burden shifts to PB to show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its employment action. Machinchick need not produce evidence of actual discriminatory intent; instead, if he can show that the reason articulated by the employer for his dismissal is a pretext for illegal behavior, then the inference of age discrimination is likely to hold. The evidence of age discrimination can be circumstantial, such as indirect references to age.

Citation Machinchick v. PB Power, Inc., 398 F.3d 345 (5th Cir., 2005)

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