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Summary Judgment In Favor Of Employer Under ADEA Reversed by D.C. Circuit.

May 31, 2013

A 57-year-old management consultant who was discharged during a restructuring, and told that she was not a good fit with the firm’s new business focus, could advance her Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and D.C. law claims. In Barnett v. PA Consulting Group, Inc., the plaintiff worked for a consulting group for several years in the transportation group, which advised clients in the airline industry.  The plaintiff received favorable performance reviews and the percentage of her work billed to clients was higher than that of any other consultant in the transportation group.  After an internal audit, the employer found that the transportation group had too many employees billing too few hours.  As a result, the group decided to lay off some employees.  To assess who to lay off, management created a chart in which it ranked employees.  The chart included comments about the productivity of each employee as well as their age.   The plaintiff had better rankings than a 41-year-old male colleague.  Despite this, she was added to the list of those to be fired, allegedly because her work was not focused on any of the six “focus propositions” that would govern the transportation group’s work going forward.  The plaintiff’s position was eliminated and she filed suit, claiming age discrimination. The district court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed.  The appeals court found that a jury could disbelieve the employer’s assertion that it fired the plaintiff because her consulting practice did not fit the firm’s new focus.  It reached this decision based on evidence that the younger male employee’s practice also did not fit the new focus.  The court also found that a jury could infer age discrimination from the fact that the chart that the employer’s leadership relied upon identified the ages of individuals.