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AARP, NELA, And EEOC Ask Circuit Court to Overturn Age Bias Decision

In January 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment against Melanie Pelcha, who claimed her employer fired her in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). 

In the underlying facts of the case, 47-year- old Pelcha requested time off from her position at MW Bancorp. She did not follow company policy in making her request. The bank fired her for that failure and other workplace issues. In assessing whether to allow her case to proceed, the Sixth Circuit reviewed Pelcha’s evidence. The CEO allegedly made three statements that suggested age bias. First, he stated an 80-year-old employee had a “limited shelf life” and reached her “expiration date.” Second, the CEO intended to reduce that older employee’s hours until she quit. Third, the CEO stated he would like to hire “younger tellers.”

The Sixth Circuit panel concluded Pelcha could not prove her age was the “sole reason” for her dismissal, and thus summary judgment was appropriate. She has filed an appeal of the ruling to the full Sixth Circuit, seeking to overturn the panel’s decision. The AARP, the National Employment Lawyers’ Association, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission submitted briefs supporting her appeal of the decision. These organizations argue that a “sole cause” standard should not have been applied in this case based on legal precedent, including language from the U.S. Supreme Court. Should this standard be adopted, these organizations argue, it will be extremely difficult for older employees to prevail on age discrimination claims. These groups also fear the impact of the adoption of this same standard by other courts. The EEOC argued that the “but, for” standard should be applied, pointing to previous court decisions.