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Good Performance With Age Related Comments Enough to Suggest Pretext

Karen Fuller was a female news anchor for Meredith Corporation for twelve years before she was fired from her position at age 47. She was replaced by a 32-year-old woman.
Meredith Corp. tried to dismiss her subsequent lawsuit on the grounds that Ms. Fuller had conceded during her deposition that gender also likely played a role in her termination. Thus, the company argued, Ms. Fuller could not establish that “but, for” her age, she would not have been terminated. The federal district court disagreed with Meredith’s conclusion. It was accurate that the Supreme Court has held an employee must show that age was more than a motivating factor and it was the “but-for” cause of the employment action. However, the district court held that acknowledging age was not the sole factor did not mean that age was not the but-for causation of her termination.
Other evidence produced by Ms. Fuller showed that age may have been the primary factor leading to her termination. The station claimed that she was fired for poor performance. Yet, Meredith Corp. did not provide any evidentiary support for the assertion, instead, it relied solely on a subjective determination. Ms. Fuller had worked for 11 years at the station, requiring multiple renewals of her contract. She was also cited for missing editorial meetings that evidence showed were sanctioned by her news director. Lastly, there were a couple, fairly subtle age-related comments about Ms. Fuller’s replacement. The primary example was a comment about her replacement’s nice Midwestern “hometown girl” look, which would not have been said about an older woman. Taking all of the above, the court concluded that there was a question whether the proffered reasons for Ms. Fuller’s termination were a pretext for age discrimination.