The End of Racism! (a/k/a A Lump of Coal from SCOTUS Claus!)

Well, SCOTUS Claus left us a stocking full of coal this morning in Shelby County v. Holder. I’m not going to do a full analysis of the case, since other people have already done a much better job of that than I ever could. (I’m talking about you, SCOTUSblog, and your already-posted five articles and forthcoming Shelby reaction symposium.) But here’s the short-short summary, followed by some specific questions/thoughts:

coal in stocking

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Daily Decisions: Age Discrimination, Pretext, and “Old Goats”

In Rice v. Offshore Systems, Inc. (Division 1, March 19, 2012) (previously unpublished), the Court of Appeals reviewed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer OSI on the plaintiff’s claim that his termination was the result of age discrimination.

For purposes of the appeal and the summary judgment motion below, both parties agreed that the plaintiff had made a prima facie case for age discrimination and that OCI had offered a legitimate non-discriminatory reason.  The issue, therefore, was pretext.

The Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff had created an issue of fact regarding pretext for a variety of reasons.  First, the person who fired the plaintiff had a history of making disparaging remarks about the plaintiff’s age, such as calling him “an old goat” in front of other employees and saying “you’re too old to stay on the job.”  Moreover, OCI offered conflicting justifications for terminating the plaintiff — first stating that he was fired because he “tried to cut the lines” on a boat, and then later stating that it was because of his intoxication and conduct during a dock fire.  The plaintiff also argued that his intoxication and actions during the dock fire were reasonable.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that “the record contains reasonable but competing inferences of discriminatory intent because OSI’s reasons are called into question by inconsistent reasons given and evidence rebutting their accuracy and credibility.”  The Court therefore reversed the grant of summary judgment.