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PA District Court Holds that Employer Had Legitimate Nondiscriminatory Reason for Termination in Age Discrimination Case

In Terrell v. Main Line Health, Inc., Civil Action No. 17-3102, 2018 WL 2462005 (E.D. Pa. June 1, 2018) Plaintiff, an employee at Defendant’s Hospital for thirty-five years, was terminated from her position as operating room secretary. Plaintiff alleges that her employer terminated her because of her age. Defendant countered and argued that Plaintiff was terminated for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason. Specifically, Defendant alleged that Plaintiff accessed information regarding a co-worker in violation of Defendant’s polices relating to patient privacy and in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”). Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”) and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission (“PHRC”). Defendants ultimately moved for summary judgment.

To succeed on an age discrimination claim based on disparate impact, a plaintiff must demonstrate that age “was the ‘but-for’ cause of the employer’s adverse decision.” In age discrimination cases, it is not sufficient to simply show that age was “a motivating factor” in the adverse employment action. Rather, a plaintiff must demonstrate that age was a determinative factor or “the ‘but for’ cause of the employers adverse decision.” Age discrimination may be established by direct or indirect evidence. Regardless of the method of proof, “the plaintiff retains the burden of persuasion to establish that age was the ‘but-for’ cause of the employer’s adverse actions. To establish a prima facie case of discrimination in ADEA cases, the plaintiff must show (1) that the plaintiff was forty years of age or older; (2) that the defendant took an adverse employment action against the plaintiff; (3) that the plaintiff was qualified for the position in question; and (4) that the plaintiff was ultimately replaced by another employee who was sufficiently younger to support an inference of discriminatory animus. Plaintiff successfully established a prima facie case of age discrimination.

Accordingly, the burden shifted to Defendant to produce a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for termination. Defendant then produced the evidence that Plaintiff twice accessed information regarding a co-worker in violation of Defendant’s polices relating to patient privacy and in violation of the HIPAA. Therefore, the burden went back to Plaintiff to establish the proffered reason was merely pretext.

Plaintiff did not challenge the allegation that she accessed information regarding co-workers. Rather, she argued that a factfinder could disbelieve Defendants’ articulated legitimate reason for terminating her because her “two business-related data accesses absolutely do not fall into the categories of conduct required for termination.” The Court ultimately ruled that Plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the proffered reason for her termination were pre-textual and that Defendants were entitled to summary judgment.

For more information, call our employment discrimination lawyers in Philadelphia at the Law Offices of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or submit an online inquiry.