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7th Cir Remands Straight Forward ADEA Claim, Will Go to Trial

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By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on October 23, 2013 3:55 PM

The Seventh Circuit has been in the news a lot lately with the recent Supreme Court's dismissal of Madigan v. Levin, where it had a chance to determine whether the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") preempted an equal protection claim.

Recently, the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded a straight forward ADEA claim, finding that the district court erred by granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment.

Background

John Mullin was a fire truck and rescue equipment salesperson since 1990, and in 2008 and 2009 won Temco's Salesman of the Year Award for selling the most fire trucks in the preceding fiscal year. In May of 2010, within a two week period, Temco fired two of its salesmen, both in their fifties and replaced them with two inexperienced men in their twenties. Mullin was one of the men fired, aged fifty-six at the time. The reasons Temco gave for firing Mullin varied, and were all contested.

Mullin went through the appropriate EEOC channels, which resulted in the EEOC issuing him a right to sue letter. He sued Temco alleging violation of the ADEA, however, the district court granted Temco's motion for summary judgment.

Legal Analysis

Reviewing the district court's decision de novo, the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded the case for trial, relying on three major reasons. First, the timing of the hiring of young, inexperienced workers and firing of two salesmen in their fifties was very suspicious. The court noted that a "flurry of personnel changes that operate to the detriment of a much older employee" is suspicious.

Next, Temco's management mentioned the new employees' youth in depositions, and though the statements were made in reference to the new employees' weaknesses, the court found that should have been left to a jury to decide the weight to give those statements.

Finally, the court found that Mullin had raised questions of fact as to whether the reasons Temco gave for firing him were mere pretext. Many of the claims made by Temco were contested by Mullin, and should have been left for a jury to determine who was more credible. The court stated that each of the reasons alone would not be enough to survive summary judgment, but, "[i]n combination, however, they point to a string of questionable conduct, from the suspicious timing of personnel decisions to ambiguous statements about age to multiple seemingly inaccurate allegations."

In this instance, Mullin will have his day in court. The more complicated issues raised in Madigan, however, will be left for another day.

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