NEWSFLASH: Age Discrimination, Still Illegal

Recent decisions from the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit have reaffirmed that age discrimination in employment still violates both state and federal law.

Ritter v. Auntie Ruth’s Animal Care and Wellness, Inc., No. A14-1044 (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2015).

Pat Ritter began working for Auntie Ruth’s as the General Manager in 2011. In 2012, the business was sold to new owners, both of whom were under 30 years old. At the time, Pat Ritter was 61 years old. After the new owners took over, they complained to Rittter that her health insurance premiums were expensive because of her age, that she dressed like she was “from the 70s,” and that she couldn’t relate to the rest of the staff because the difference in age created a “generation gap” between Ritter and the other employees.

Shortly after making these comments, the new owners of Auntie Ruth’s fired Ritter, replacing her with a 43-year old, and later a 25-year old employee.

Ritter sued under Minnesota law, claiming her termination was motivated by unlawful age discrimination. The trial court initially dismissed her claim, concluding that Ritter had not introduced sufficient evidence of age discrimination to warrant a trial. But on appeal the Minnesota Court of Appeals revived Ritter’s case, allowing Ritter to proceed to a jury trial to determine whether her age motivated Auntie Ruth’s decision to terminate her.

Hilde v. City of Eveleth, No. 14-1016 (8th Cir. Feb. 5, 2015).

LeRoy Hilde, a 51-year old police officer with 29 years of experience on the force who was second-in-command to the Chief of Police in Eveleth, MN was passed over for the Chief role when his supervisor retired. Instead, the City decided to hire a younger, less experienced candidate for the role, despite the fact that the outgoing Chief told the City that Hilde was “the right choice for the position.”

The City’s explanation for hiring a different candidate was that the other candidate was “obviously superior” to Hilde. But the evaluation scores that the City applied to candidates for the position showed that Hilde and the other candidate were tied. And there was evidence that after a private meeting between the decision-makers at the city, Hilde’s score was altered—presumably lowered from a score that put him in first place to a score that had him tied with the alternate candidate. Moreover, none of the witnesses were able to explain the reasons for this suspicious after-the-fact change in Hilde’s score. The court concluded that this “deliberate[] manipulat[ion] [of] Hilde’s scores,” along with the evidence that Hilde had more experience and the 8-year age difference between Hilde and the other candidate supported an inference that the City discriminated based on Hilde’s age, and remanded the case for trial.