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How Old Is Too Old to Work in a Nuclear Lab?

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 14, 2019 9:03 AM

Jagdish Laul started work when he was 60 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, most famous for designing nuclear weapons during World War II. At his age, he fit right in. In his mid-70s, however, his performance as a safety analyst gradually declined. He was fired and then denied rehiring for any other position.

In Laul v. Los Alamos National Laboratories, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision. The judges said he took too long.

Too Long

It was not a statute of limitations problem; you're never too old to sue. It wasn't age discrimination either, the appeals court said. The problem had to due with the last time the employer decided not to hire him. It occurred in April 2015, nearly six months after Laul last complained of discrimination. "This gap between the protected activity and the adverse action was too long to support an inference of causation," the Tenth Circuit said. The panel cited its own authority in Bekkem v. Wilkie, which said a gap of three months or more requires more evidence to show a "protected activity was a but-for cause of the adverse employment action." In the grand scheme of things, however, Laul's case was about a lot more than that.

Nuclear safety analysis is the core function at the Los Alamos' safety division. Analysts evaluate work processes, identify and analyze nuclear and high hazard accidents, and develop controls for the safety of workers and the general public. When Laul was not rehired, he took it personally.

High Hazard

After firing Laul from the safety job, the employer turned him down for 19 other positions. Most of the hiring managers didn't know that he had been terminated or that he had filed discrimination charges against the company. They generally said he didn't meet the job requirements. According to the court record, Laul became frustrated and angry. On two occasions, Laul became so aggressive that he was asked to leave. Security issued a "Be On the Lookout" for him. Laul sued, but a trial judge dismissed his complaint on summary judgment. The appeals court affirmed.

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