Thursday, October 18, 2018

Sixth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Threadbare ADEA Complaint

This morning, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a “threadbare” complaint under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  Smithv. Wrigley Mfg Co., No. No. 18-5397 (6th Cir. 10-18-19).  The plaintiff alleged simply that she had been a good and long-time employee and that she had been unfairly fired when younger employees had not been.  While this allegation asserts the basic elements of an ADEA claim, it did not contain any facts showing the differences in ages, behavior or treatment that are necessary to survive a motion to dismiss under Civil Rule 12(b)(6).  A court must only accept as true factual allegations and need not defer to mere legal conclusions.  Accordingly, the case was dismissed before the plaintiff was permitted to conduct any discovery.

According to the Court’s opinion, the complaint in its entirety provided:

Plaintiff was a longtime employee of [Wrigley] and its predecessor company.  Despite Plaintiff’s good record with [Wrigley], [Wrigley] discharged the employment of Plaintiff on or about March 3, 2016.  This discharge was largely based upon the pretext of alleged misconduct when the real motivation was age discrimination in violation of 29 U.S.C. § Sections [sic] 621 to 634.  Plaintiff is and was over 40 years of age at the time of discharge.  The conduct of [Wrigley] in discharging Plaintiff was inconsistent with the way Plaintiff was treated in her many years of service with [Wrigley] and its predecessors, and inconsistent with the way other employees similarly situated, who were younger, were treated.  Plaintiff was qualified for her position and had been so during her many years of service.  [Wrigley] did not object to Plaintiff drawing unemployment.  Plaintiff before being terminated always gave [Wrigley] her best effort as she had always done for years.  Younger employees that were performing on a par with Plaintiff were still working with [Wrigley] after Plaintiff’s discharge.

The Court found that dismissal prior to discovery was appropriate because the complaint had failed to allege facts from which any court could “draw a reasonable inference of discrimination.   . . . . In the absence of facts regarding the ages or positions of the younger,  similarly-situated employees, or any example of how those employees were treated differently, the court could not do so.”

Though [the plaintiff] mentioned that younger employees who were “performing on a  par” with her were still employed when she was fired, she offered no names, ages, or qualifications for the younger employees who were treated differently, or any examples of how their treatment differed.  Without additional facts, the court cannot infer that [the employer] fired [the plaintiff] because of her age.

NOTICE: This summary is designed merely to inform and alert you of recent legal developments. It does not constitute legal advice and does not apply to any particular situation because different facts could lead to different results. Information here can be changed or amended without notice. Readers should not act upon this information without legal advice. If you have any questions about anything you have read, you should consult with or retain an employment attorney