Sprint Employee Prevails in Appellate Court ADEA Ruling

November 28, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Employees trying to prove discrimination in a companywide reduction in force (RIF) don't have to limit themselves to co-workers with the same supervisor when presenting witnesses, a federal appellate court has ruled.

The 10 th US Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling in a suit by Ellen Mendelsohn against Sprint/United Management Co. The 51-year-old Mendelsohn, the oldest manager in her unit, asserted that the company’s November 2002 RIF was unfairly targeted against older workers and violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

At trial before a US District judge in the US District Court for the District of Kansas, Mendelsohn tried to introduce testimony from five other employees – all older than 40 – who were terminated during the RIF and who also thought they had been discriminated against.

However, the trial judge blocked that testimony under the same-supervisor rule, which limits evidence to comparison of a supervisor’s disciplinary action with other actions of the same supervisor against other employees. The co-workers had different supervisors than did Mendelsohn.

On appeal, the 10th Circuit held that the lower court had wrongly excluded the testimony and found the evidence was appropriate.

“We agree with Mendelsohn that the evidence she sought to introduce is relevant to Sprint’s discriminatory animus toward older workers and the exclusion of such evidence unfairly inhibited Mendelsohn from presenting her case to the jury,” the appellate judges wrote.

The opinion inMendelsohn v. Sprint/United Management Co., 10th Cir., No. 05-3150 (Nov. 1, 2006) is  here.