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11th Circuit Revives Age Discrimination Suit Against MetLife

The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed a lower district court's grant of summary judgment on age discrimination issues, finding that the trial court failed to apply relevant law and came to its conclusions erroneously.

It's a small victory for the plaintiff, who was subjected to the ridiculous drama of employee jealousy and company re-organization.

A Dispute Over Retirement

Liebman, plaintiff in this case, worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance as the managing director at the company's Boca Raton and West Palm Beach locations in Florida. He had been an employee with the company the better part of three decades, first starting out in 2008 until his controversial termination in January of 2013.

Liebman's boss, Adkins, was the jealous sort. He noted, rather nosily, that Liebman's retirement package was superior to his even though Adkins occupied a superior position in the company. From then on, the relationship deteriorated as Adkins gave Liebman poor employee reviews and later placed him on a "performance plan." Later, another employee, Cohen, replaced Adkins as Liebman's superior. Things still got worse. Much of Liebman's work was credited to another employee, Weiss.

Termination and Suit

In 2013, things came to a head and Liebman was terminated in January. He sued under ERISA and ADEA. The district court dismissed Liebman's cases on both theories and granted summary judgment. The reasoning behind this was that Liebman failed to produce a prima facie showing of ERISA and ADEA violations because Weiss was a member of a protected class under ADEA since he was 42 years old, and thus, precluded any viable age discrimination claim. Further, Liebman had failed to prove that he was even qualified for the position.

"Substantially Younger" Is the Key

The Eleventh Circuit reversed the lower court's granting of summary judgment. The circuit court found that the lower court either forgot or simply chose not to apply the pertinent law in O'Connor v. Consolidated Coin, which stood for the rule of carve outs in ADEA: no ADEA suit is viable against an employer if the replacement employee is of a protected class (i.e., above 40 years old) unless the replacement employee is substantially younger. Here, since seven years old fits the bill, Liebman did have a proper case.

You're Kidding, Right?

Additionally, the Panel was incredulous at the district finding that Liebman had not shown he was qualified at his position. "Liebman had been in virtually the same position for nine years before his termination," the court said. "Nine years in the same position, and nearly three decades at the same company, is long enough to support the inference that he was qualified for his job."

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