Tuesday, September 17, 2013

11th Circuit Holds Urging an Employee to Retire is Not 'Necessarily' Evidence of Age Discrimination

In yet another case of why the facts matter in employment law cases, the 11th Circuit upheld a district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing a case in favor of an employer police department that demoted 51-year-old Captain to a Patrol Officer after his relationship with the Chief of Police soured.

The plaintiff, James Woolsey, was promoted to Captain by the same Chief of Police that demoted him because Woolsey had implemented certain practices the Chief did not agree with.  Woolsey claimed the Chief twice demanded that he retire and was silent when Woolsey asked why.  The Chief also provided Woolsey with materials for the Florida Retirement System's Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP).  Woolsey claimed that the Chief told him that if he did not retire, he "was going to take [him] down in an embarrassing ball of flames."

What clearly killed Woolsey's case is the fact that in support of the Chief's stated reasons for Woolsey's demotion, the town submitted multiple letters of counseling/reprimand and performance evaluations issued to Woolsey explaining his specific deficiencies and what needed to be done for him to improve, including a warning of possible demotion or termination if he did not.  The Court also noted Woolsey was promoted while he was age 49.

It is usually unlawful to require or demand retirement under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), but interestingly enough, in upholding the lower court's decision, the 11th Circuit made little importance or significance of the Chief's retirement "suggestions."  Perhaps a plaintiff with less performance issues, a younger employee taking their place and more aggressive "suggestions" might have a different outcome.

The case is Woolsey v. Town of Hillsboro Beach (11th Cir., September 6, 2013).

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