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Context Key For Determining Whether Comments Age-Related

Novo Nordisk terminated William Puig Martinez and Hernan Mendez Nazario from their jobs as part of a global reorganization. The company encouraged laid-off employees to reapply for open positions post-reorganization. Puig, age 57, and Mendez, age 48, applied for but were not selected for post-reorganization positions. Novo selected three candidates, aged 43 through 47, for the positions. Puig and Mendez sued for discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Puerto Rico’s anti-discrimination statute.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals considered their case on appeal. Regarding Mendez, the appellate court quickly dismissed his claims. Two of the three candidates selected were just one year younger. The court stated, “This is simply not a scenario that invites even speculation of age discrimination.” To establish age bias, the replacement worker should be significantly younger. Pug, at 57, met the threshold. Puig argued the interviewers’ description of the ideal candidate as having “energy,” being “dynamic,” and possessing “stamina” reflected age-based animus. The court responded, “We can certainly imagine a context in which such comments might suggest age-based bias.” However, in this case, the three available positions covered a sales territory previously managed by 14 people. The court concluded the positions were more demanding. The court also noted that the interviewers did not suggest Puig lacked those attributes. In deciding not to select him, they referenced his relatively weak “plan” and his lower “level of probing and engaging skills” compared to the other candidates. The circuit court found in this context, “jurors could not find age discrimination based on the challenged remarks.”