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Court Identifies Direct Evidence of Age Discrimination

After seeing an ad in the local newspaper for an “auto tech” teacher position at a high school, James Smith applied. He had 30 years experience working at General Motors as well as a Bachelor’s degree in automotive and heavy equipment repair. During his interview with the superintendent responsible for hiring, she said to him, “you’re 64, how much longer are you going to work?” Mr. Smith responded that he was in good health and planned to work for many years yet. Other candidates also interviewed for the position. One 42 year-old individual, who knew the superintendent for many years, had children in the district, and had experience was given the chance to observe classes and work as a substitute teacher. Mr. Smith was only invited to observe a class. 

The retiring auto tech teacher wrote an email about the 42 year-old candidate. He praised him and suggested, “I think a young instructor will be a great asset to the automotive program.” This teacher also noted that the younger applicant’s recent experience as a substitute teacher meant he knew what it was like in the classroom, and “[h]e seems to have the respect of the students.” The younger applicant was selected.

Mr. Smith sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The federal trial court found that the statement made by the superintendent was direct evidence of age discrimination. She made the statement as the decision-maker during their only meeting when the school district was seeking to fill a position. The evidence of discrimination was bolstered by the email from the retiring teacher referring to the “younger” candidate. The third candidate was also allegedly asked about his age. The case will proceed to trial.