Court says skills deficit, not age, caused firing
- An appeals court rejected a 54-year-old worker’s claim that his employer fired him because of his age, SHRM reports. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the manufacturing firm Optomec Inc., which argued that the worker was fired for lacking the appropriate skills for the job.
- SHRM says John Lees, the company’s vice president of engineering, hired Thomas Nash as an intern. Although Nash’s performance as an intern was mediocre, Lees later hired him as a full-time laboratory technician.
- In less than a year, Lees claimed he grew concerned that Nash lacked the skills the company would need going forward, says SHRM. He fired Nash and replaced him with two younger temporary workers. When Nash asked Lee the reason for his termination, Lee never told him his firing was skills-related. Nash sued the company for age discrimination.
Employers must document workers’ performance as a defense against discrimination claims. A careful, documented evaluation of Nash’s lackluster performance as an intern could have given Lees second thoughts about hiring him full time.
Employers must always be honest with employees about their performance. When Nash asked why he was being fired, Lees initially indicated that job skills weren’t a factor. Nash might have assumed that his age had to be the reason and therefore sued the company.
Ageism has emerged as a key discrimination issue in recent times, particularly in the tech sector, as baby boomers have remained in the workforce longer than their predecessors. The court ruled in favor of the company in this case, but it's likely something we will see more of from the courts this year.