Earlier this month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a case brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). In Schoonmaker v. Spartan Graphics Leasing, the plaintiff, a 58 year old woman, was selected for termination as part of the employer’s reduction-in-force (“RIF”). So was her 65 year old co-worker. Their 29 year old co-worker, however, was retained. The court held that this “mere age differential,” without more, was insufficient to create a prima facie showing of discrimination. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, she did not have any other evidence, other than her own, unsupported belief that she was the more worthy employee.
While this case has a happy ending for the employer, employers should still be careful about the rationale behind all termination decisions, whether as part of a RIF or otherwise. Thorough, consistent and well-documented performance reviews are an example of such relevant and helpful documentation.