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Can You Claim Age Discrimination if Your Replacement is Older than You?

In 2003, Gloria Garcia’s employment as a school secretary was terminated by the principal of a school in the Mission school district. She had been employed by the school for 17 years and was 48 years old. In a regular story about age discrimination, the next bit of information would be how much younger her replacement was. But this case is unusual in that Ms. Garcia’s replacement was actually three years older.

The school district has tried twice to have the case thrown out, partly because they claim schools cannot be sued for discrimination, and partly because age appears to be a non-issue in the firing of Ms. Garcia since her replacement was older. The school appeals took so much time that Ms. Garcia will not get to personally hear the final verdict in the case because she passed away in 2010. But the decision will still be important to other employees who are over 40, including two women who were let go by the same school district.

Ms. Garcia’s attorney contends that the school district can definitely be sued for discrimination because it is regulated by individuals elected in to office, it runs on money collected from taxpayers, and it provides a public service. She also explains how an age discrimination claim could be valid when the new employee is older than the one terminated. One scenario would be that the supervisor responsible for the firing did not hire the replacement. So in this case it is possible that the principal had an issue with Ms. Garcia’s age and wrongfully terminated her, but it was left up to human resources to find a replacement, which they did. The individual just happened to be older. Another possibility brought up by one of the chief justices reviewing the case is that an attorney for the school district realized they could be in trouble for firing Ms. Garcia based on her age, so he recommended that she be replaced by an older person.

These questions could be answered through depositions and documents, if the school system would stop filing appeals so discovery could continue. Ms. Garcia’s attorney admits that if it is proven that the same principal that fired Ms. Garcia also hired her older replacement, then she would most likely no longer have a case. But for now, the questions still remain.

The Texas Supreme Court has heard arguments from both sides in January and will make a ruling. There is no time frame for when the members of the court will make their decision. Both employers and employees will be interested to hear the judges’ opinion.

This scenario shows that even a case that appears hopeless to some may have merit in the eyes of another. When faced with employment issues, it is important to contact a qualified Kentucky employment attorney to help review the facts and determine if a case exists. The attorneys of Miller & Falkner have over eight years of experience in handling all types of employment cases.

Sources:

Texas Supreme Court ponders age bias lawsuit: Replacement worker was older than fired worker; statesman.com;Chuck Lindell; January 13, 2012