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Note Stating Employee at End of Career Not Enough for Age Discrimination

Anne Marnocha worked as a neonatologist, treating ill and premature infants at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indiana. While Marnocha worked at St. Vincent’s 86th Street location, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) improved its ability to treat babies needing the highest level of care. She transferred to St. Vincent’s Carmel location to help raise the level of its NICU facility. St. Vincent’s hired a new executive director to oversee the NICUs at both hospitals. After deciding the hospitals employed too many neonatologists, Director Hossain Marandi terminated the neonatologists at Carmel and expanded the duties of the doctors at 86th Street. At the time of termination, Carmel employed five neonatologists, four of whom were over 50 and one who was 35. Human Resources reviewed Marandi’s plan to assess any risk; this review looked at the staff at both hospitals to ensure the decision was not based on the specifics of any individuals. The Carmel neonatologists applied for the single new position at 86th Street; the hospital hired the 35-year-old. Marnocha sued, alleging age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s dismissal of the case. Marnocha’s claim focused on St. Vincent’s hiring of the 35-year-old and the notes of one interviewer. This interview wrote Marnocha was “at the end of her career.” When asked about this note, the interviewer clarified that as an administrator he “wanted to build for 20, 30 years in the future, not just for the next five years.” The appellate court remarked that describing a person as later in their career was not necessarily a euphemism for age. Evidence from the hiring process showed the panel of interviewers selected the younger doctor because she was a “high-energy person.” She came better prepared for her interview. She addressed the demands of the new unit. She showed her readiness for the increased workload and more complicated cases. Marnoucha “brushed off her need for training” and advances in medicine over the 15 years since she worked in a more advanced unit. Unable to demonstrate that the hospital’s reasons were pretextual and that the hospital would have selected her, “but, for” her age, her claim failed.