Appeals Court Rules for EEOC in Discrimination Suit

July 31, 2013 ( – A federal appeals court handed victory to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in an age and disability discrimination lawsuit.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Beaumont, Texas, trial court judge’s grant of summary judgment in favor of DynMcDermott Petroleum Operations Company (DM), a federal contractor. The EEOC had sued the company, alleging it discriminated against an applicant on the basis of age and disability.

The appeals court found that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment in favor of DM. It returned the lawsuit to the trial court for a trial on the merits. 

DM is a privately-held corporation that provides maintenance and operations services for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve managed by the U.S. Department of Energy. Phillip “Mike” Swafford, a former planner/scheduler for DM, was recommended for an open planner/scheduler position at DM’s facility in Winnie, Texas, by both his former supervisor and the manager in charge of hiring for the position.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, despite these recommendations, the facility’s director, who had direct supervisory authority over the hiring manager, repeatedly stated that Swafford should not be hired because of his age, then 56 years, and his wife’s cancer, which the facility’s director assumed would interfere with Swafford’s ability to perform his job duties. The court noted that the director’s discriminatory statements were made both verbally and in writing, through e-mails, to company officials in New Orleans, including his supervisor, the human resources director, the CEO and the company’s general counsel.

The director also threatened the hiring manager with disciplinary action for the hiring manager’s “insubordination” related to the prospective hiring of Swafford. Subsequently, the hiring manager hired a 35-year-old applicant with no prior experience with the company or its program-specific software.

The appeals court concluded that with the evidence, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the EEOC, finding that, but for Swafford’s age and/or disabled wife, DM would have hired him.