Federal Judge Focuses on Discrimination, Not Hiring Rationale

May 17, 2001 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal judge chose not to believe an employer's rationale for not promoting an older worker, but chose to believe his assertion that age didn't influence the decision.

Senior US District Judge Edmund V. Ludwig of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that plaintiffs in discrimination cases must “convince the fact-finder both that the reason was false and that discrimination was the real reason.”

The finding was the result of a nonjury trial in Robinson v. Henderson, according to the Legal Intelligencer. 

Case History

Judge Ludwig found that plaintiff Fannie Robinson had “arguably succeeded in discrediting the reason given” by her employer when she was denied a promotion to a human resources post.

Joseph DiDio, Robinson’s boss at the US Postal Service testified that he chose a younger candidate for the job because he had expressed himself more clearly in the interview, while Robinson had poor communication skills.

Robinson has worked for the US Postal Service for 29 years and is 64 years old.  She processed mail for 17 years, but a decade ago began working in the injury compensation unit, making up folders and answering the phone. She later moved to the customer service department.

A Failure To Communicate?

In 1998, she and three younger employees applied for a position as a human resource specialist.  Robinson claims she was the best candidate for the job, having already worked in the position for a four-month period several years earlier – and since she had the most seniority.

Supervisor DiDio drew a different conclusion after interviewing each of the four candidates for 15 minutes, selecting 38-year-old Joseph Tarczewski for the position.  DiDio later claimed that Tarczewski had expressed himself more clearly, and that communication was a key qualification for the position, which involved describing administrative processes to injured claimants.

However, Judge Ludwig chose not to accept that premise, since communication skills were never discussed during Robinson’s interview.  He did, however, choose to accept at face value DiDio’s claim that age played no role in the decision.  “Without more, the significant age difference between Tarczewski and plaintiff cannot satisfy her burden,” Ludwig wrote.

– Nevin Adams                    editors@plansponsor.com