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Timing Sends Age Discrimination Case Forward

The Cooper Health System employed Michael Ciecka as a radiology technician from 2000 to 2014. He received good performance evaluations. In both 2013 and 2014, his performance was rated over as “exceeds expectations.” He was given high scores for his abilities on operating room technology.

In June 2014, Mr. Ciecka complained to Human Resources via letter after a supervisor purportedly made references to his age. Within two months, he was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan for a lack of competence on certain operating room equipment. A couple of months after that, he was fired for failing to improve after being issued his PIP. Mr. Ciecka was 52 years old.

A federal district court denied Cooper’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Mr. Ciecka had sufficient evidence to raise the argument that his termination was pretextual. Cooper Health had provided some evidence that several doctors and lead technologists had found his skills to be deficient. However, the court found that a jury might disbelieve that evidence, finding that the timing between his PIP and complaint were suspect. Mr. Ciecka also had some evidence that other technicians had the same problems with the equipment and were not placed on a PIP. Viewing the evidence in Mr. Ciecka’s favor, a jury could conclude that he lost his job because he complained of age discrimination and not based on his deficient skills. The court also allowed his age discrimination claim on the same facts even though the decision-makers were all over 40 years old.