age discrimination

A federal court is letting a job candidate’s age discrimination lawsuit stand, even though the employer never hired anyone for the position. Why? Because of what a manager said during the interview. 

It all happened at Detroit Baptist Manor, a retirement community, where Frank Branham, 67, applied for a general maintenance position.

Branham interviewed with Paul Doelle, the director of operations who was in charge of hiring maintenance employees.

Branham claims that during the interview, Doelle said he:

“was not looking to hire anyone at [Branham’s] age because he had enough staff that was 40 or 50-year-old guys. He needed younger men that can be able to climb ladders and get on the roof.”

Doelle admitted to saying as much.

Granted, that certainly sounds like clear-cut grounds for an age discrimination lawsuit … that is until you throw in this little fact: Detroit Baptist Manor didn’t hire a person younger than Branham to fill the position Branham applied for. In fact, it didn’t hire anyone for the position.

Age discrimination lawsuit to proceed

Still, Branham filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the retirement community.

The community then tried to get the lawsuit thrown out on summary judgment. It argued it didn’t hire anyone over Branham and there wasn’t even an open position for a maintenance worker at the time (there’s some contention about whether Branham was told there was an actual opening). Therefore, according to Detroit Baptist Manor, Branham’s age couldn’t have played a part in why he wasn’t hired.

But the court sided with Branham. It said a jury could infer from Doelle’s comment that the reason Branham wasn’t hired was his age. So it’s letting the lawsuit proceed to trial, where Detroit Baptist Manor is facing a costly legal defense bill or a settlement.

If the retirement community decides not to settle with Branham, a jury will be tasked with determining whether there was a job opening at all and whether the community chose not to fill it with Branham because of his age.

Now some of you may be asking: Doesn’t the fact that nobody younger than Branham was hired, negate his age discrimination claim?

May have pulled opening to prevent a claim

The answer: Not necessarily. And to explain why, you have to dig deeper into the facts of the case.

After his conversation with Doelle, Branham contacted an HR rep for Detroit Baptist Manor and told her that Doelle had attacked his age and stated it was the reason the community wasn’t considering him for employment.

As a result, the court said it could be called into question whether Detroit Baptist Manor pulled the job opening or chose not to fill it in order to protect itself from a potential age discrimination claim.

This, too, will be something the jury will have to sort out.

We’ll keep you posted.

Cite: Branham v. Detroit Baptist Manor

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