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Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects employee of 37 years

Kathleen Martin gave the Toledo Cardiology Consultants, Inc., 37 years of faithful employment.  They allegedly relied on a ruse to fire her because she had become "too expensive".  The Sixth Circuit reinstated her wrongful discharge claim with instructions that the material facts should be determined by the jury and not by the judge.

Martin was hired at age 19 by the Defendant's corporate predecessor in 1967.  Starting as a medical assistant, she eventually worked as a phlebotomist, a lab tech, overseer of the coumadin program and in various other capacities.  She was never disciplined.  In 2003, a new doctor assumed the daily management of Defendant's operations and embarked on a cost-cutting program.  Under Martin's version of the facts--only partially disputed by Defendant--she was subjected to an enormous pay cut and told that she had a poor attitude because she didn't show enough gratitude for the Defendant's continued employment of her, given that she could be replaced by cheaper employees. 

Ultimately, she was confronted with an alleged racial slur (that she adamantly denied making) and forced to take an entry level job working at two sites on either side of Toledo.  She was not allowed to dispute the alleged slur, even though a co-worker who was present denied the slur (which one doctor claimed to have witnessed). The employment relationship, not surprisingly, deteriorated from there.  Ultimately, the managing doctor accused Martin of blackmail and terminated her employment.

Martin's lawsuit was initially dismissed by the Federal District Court, however, the Sixth Circuit reversed this decision, criticizing the trial court for accepting the Defendant's version of the facts, rather than allowing  a jury to sort them out as required by law.  The appellate court noted that under Martin's version of events, a genuine issue of material fact was created and a jury could find that she had proved through circumstantial evidence a prima facie case of discrimination based on age.  The appellate holding also defined "similarly-situated" co-workers more generally than the trial court had, limiting the comparison to "relevant aspects of employment".  It concluded that "an exact correlation" between the employees was not required, and that the trial court had interpreted the phrase too narrowly.  Martin's case was sent back to the lower court for a trial on the merits of her discrimination claim and her retaliation claim.

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