Age Discrimination Case Remanded to District Court

November 19, 2013 ( – A federal appellate court decided there is enough evidence to remand a case back to district court to decide whether a school board committed age discrimination.

In the case of Harris v. Powhatan County School Board, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the opinion of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at Richmond, which found in favor of the school board, stating that while Alexander Harris had made prima facie cases for age and racial discrimination, he “failed to show that the board’s stated nondiscriminatory reasons for the termination were pretext for discrimination.”

The appellate court reviewed the case under such standards as McDonnell Douglas v. Green and Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt, Inc. These cases say that “the employee, after establishing a prima facie case for discrimination, must demonstrate that employer’s proffered permissible reason for taking an adverse employment action is actually a pretext for discrimination.” The appellate court found that according to these standards, Harris had indeed established a prima facie case with regard to his claim of age discrimination, as well as presenting sufficient evidence from which a jury could conclude that the defendants’ reasons for eliminating his position were in fact a pretext for age discrimination.

With regard to Harris’s allegations of race discrimination, which would be a Title VII violation, the appellate court acknowledged that he established a prima facie case but found that his case did not present sufficient evidence to show that the defendants’ reasons for eliminating his position were a pretext for such discrimination. This being the case, the court dismissed Harris’s claim of a Title VII violation.

Harris, alleges in the lawsuit that his employer, the Powhatan County School Board of Virginia, practiced both age and racial discrimination when it eliminated his position of director of maintenance and custodial services for the county’s school district. At the time his position was eliminated, Harris was 72 years old.

The school board contends Harris conveyed his intent to retire to his supervisor. However, Harris says while he was investigating the possibility of retirement, he did not wish to do so until compensation issues relating to unused vacation time were resolved. The issues were not resolved and the school board voted to eliminate Harris’s position, forcing him to retire. Harris then filed his lawsuit, which cited alleged violations of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. Section 1981, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

The full text of the appellate court’s opinion can be found here.