Attorneys Joni Thome and Frances Baillon recently won a reversal at the Minnesota Court of Appeals in an age discrimination case. In Ritter v. Auntie Ruth’s Furry Friends, Plaintiff alleged her employer discriminated against her on the basis of her age in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The district court dismissed Ritter’s case but the appellate court disagreed and reversed the district court.
Attorneys Joni Thome and Frances Baillon recently won a reversal at the Minnesota Court of Appeals in an age discrimination case. In Ritter v. Auntie Ruth's Furry Friends, Plaintiff alleged her employer discriminated against her on the basis of her age in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The district court dismissed Ritter's case deciding there was insufficient evidence to show the employer's decision to terminate Ritter was motivated by her age. The court of appeals disagreed and reversed the district court. The court of appeals held that the district court inappropriately "engaged in fact-finding and made credibility determinations" and that the "frequency of the [managers] comments was 'unnecessary and excessive' or 'unreasonable,' particularly in light of the comparatively short time period of 45 days during which they took place." Based on this evidence, the court held Ritter presented direct evidence suggesting a discriminatory motive motivated the employer's termination decision.
Ritter had worked as General Manager for the business before it was sold to new owners. During the hiring process, Plaintiff alleged her new manager, and co-owner of the business, wanted to cut her pay and work duties because the manager was "closer in age" and would "relate better" to younger employees. When Ritter explained she could not take the pay cut, the manager asked Ritter how old she was and when she planned to retire. Ritter responded that she was 61 and was not ready to retire. Ritter's manager was 28 years old at the time. Over the next 45 days of Ritter's employment the manager continued to make comments about Ritter's age. These statements included the manager complaining every time she wrote an insurance premium check for Ritter's health insurance saying "you cost a lot" and "we can't afford you." Ritter's manager admitted that the insurance rates were determined "by age." Ritter's clothing was ridiculed as being "from the 70s" and the manager repeatedly told Ritter she was not close enough in age to the rest of the staff to relate to them. Ritter's manager also told her that there were "generational things" or "generation gaps" between Ritter and herself and the younger employees. Ultimately, the manager terminated Ritter and hired a 43 year old, and then later a 25 year old, to perform at least some of Ritter's duties.
Plaintiffs can prove age discrimination through direct or circumstantial evidence. Employers rarely tell employees that they are making adverse employment decisions based on age, but a collection of comments and actions of employers can prove that age discrimination was a motivating factor in those employment decisions. If you believe you have experienced age discrimination at work or if you believe you were terminated from your job because of age discrimination, contact the employment lawyers at Wanta Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP.