We all know that age discrimination is an issue when an older worker is replaced by a younger worker. But, can we still show age discrimination when an older worker is replaced by someone who is also older? The Firth Circuit says yes, sometimes. In the case of Alaniz v. U.S. Renal Care, Inc., No. 19040043, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 40266 (5yh Cir. 12.23.2020) (unpublished), Juan Alaniz was a Licensed Social Worker at a medical clinic. His supervisor, Rebecca Perez, who hired Mr. Alaniz, told him younger workers can work more quickly and more quickly be molded. Another time, she said a younger persons as waiting to be called in for his position. A co-worker told Alaniz that it was a joke for older persons to continue to work.
Co-workers, who were younger, would call him for specious reasons to come to the office. They would then tell him to hurry up. The younger co-workers would walk into his office without knocking, while Alaniz was with a patient, and take papers from his desk. patients complained about the lack of respect shown toward Mr. Alaniz. Mr. Alaniz complained to HR. A regional director came to the clinic and told him he sided with Ms. Perez. he said he would fire Mr. Alaniz if he had to come back to the clinic.
A fe months later, Mr. Alaniz filed a complaint with the EEOC. A doctor came into Mr. Alaniz’ office. He asked Alaniz if he had filed a complaint with the EEOC. Upon hearing Mr. Alaniz’ response, the doctor stormed out. The clinic accused Mr. Alaniz of forging patient signatures and fired him. he was 53 years old. The clinic re-hired a former Social Worker, who was 60 years old, to replace Mr. Alaniz. It also hired a second, younger Social Worker, 26 years old.
In the resulting lawsuit, the clinic moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion.
But, on appeal, the Fifth Circuit noted that just because an older replacement was hired, that does not establish a lack of age discrimination. The supervisor made several ageist comments to Mr. Alaniz. The clinic may have hired the older Social Worker simply as cover for a lawsuit while also hiring a younger Social Worker for the future. The 60 year old Social Worker may been intended as a temporary replacement. The court noted the lack of organization in the employee’s brief. But, stills aid, the court summary judgment should not have been granted. The court then reversed the grant of summary judgment. See the decision here.