On February 28, 2018, the Plaintiff was terminated from his employment at the age of 73 years old. Plaintiff was part owner of Defendant’s company and entered into a three-year employment contract wherein the Plaintiff would continue to work for the defendant as President. As part of Defendant’s secession plan, the role of President transitioned from Plaintiff to his son. Thereafter, Defendant changed Plaintiff’s job description from President to Technical Advisor to the President. After Plaintiff’s three-year contract expired, he continued to work as a technical advisor. In April of 2017, the Plaintiff informed the Defendant that he wished to continue to work, and he asked whether his age was a factor in his continued employment. Defendant’s Chief Operating Officer (“COO”) responded that “all companies need new blood.” However, the COO told the plaintiff that he could continue to be employed as long as he was healthy and preforming. Thereafter, the Plaintiff entered into a two-year contract extension with the Defendant.
In January of 2018, the COO informed the Plaintiff that he was terminated due to an incident involving a former coworker. Around the time of Plaintiff’s termination, Defendant hired a 39-year-old male who Plaintiff alleges was hired to replace the Plaintiff. However, Plaintiff testified in his deposition that that individual did not replace him. Plaintiff alleges that he was healthy, performed well, and was an asset to Defendant at all relevant times and Defendant’s comments that the company needed “new blood” and “new ideas” are evidence that Defendants committed age discrimination. Plaintiff filed a complaint in a District Court and the defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.
In evaluating whether there is direct evidence upon which the trier of fact could reasonably find that the Plaintiff was terminated from employment on the basis of his age, the court applies the test set forth in Prince Waterhouse, which states that “once direct evidence of age discrimination is presented the ‘burden of persuasion on the issue of causation shifts, and the employer must prove that it would have fired the plaintiff even if it had not considered … [his] age.’” The Court stated that direct evidence of age discrimination is “evidence efficient to allow the jury to find that the decision-makers placed a substantial negative reliance on [the plaintiff’s age] in reaching their decision.” Plaintiff “must produce evidence of discriminatory attitudes about age that were causally related to the decision to fire” him.
In response to Plaintiff’s direct evidence, which consisted of various statements from the Defendant relating to age and having new blood in the company, Defendant argues that such statements do not on their face relate to age and that the statements are instead stray, ambiguous, and general remarks.
The Court concluded that the COO’s statements were stray remarks entitled to minimal weight. The Court found that the statements, such as “new blood” were made at least ten months prior to the Plaintiff’s termination and that the comment was followed the next day by an offer to the Plaintiff of a two-year contract extending his employment with the Defendant. Based on these reasons, the Court concluded that the offer is inconsistent with the plan to terminate Plaintiff based on his age. Therefore, defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment was granted.
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Bianchi v. B & G Machine, Inc., 2022 U.S. Dist. (D. Del. June 8, 2022)., unreported