Recently, the 11th Circuit issued an opinion addressing the Alabama Age Discrimination In Employment Act (AADEA) in the case of Ehrhardt v. Haddad Restaurant Group. Ehrhardt, a General Manager, was demoted due to poor sales and profits at the restaurant and his poor management of employees. Ehrhardt challenged and rebutted the latter, and the court found that there was little evidence indicating that he had problems with staff. The Court found that the restaurant did not discriminate against Ehrhardt by demoting him from General Manager to Beverage Director based on declining sales. Ehrhardt was subsequently terminated as Beverage Director since the restaurant, based on an economic decision, decided there was no reason to continue to employ and pay commissions to a Beverage Director in a restaurant that was losing money.
Under the AADEA, "no employer...shall discriminate against a worker 40 years of age and over in hiring, job retention, compensation, or other terms or conditions of employment". The analytical framework of the AADEA is the same as the federal Age Discrimination In Employment Act. The Court examined this case pursuant to the Supreme Court's Gross decision, holding that in order to establish a disparate treatment claim under the ADEA, "a plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence...that age was the "but-for" cause of the challenged employer decision". Although the Gross decision did not answer the question of whether the evidentiary framework of the McDonnell Douglas case is appropriate in the ADEA context, the 11th Circuit used both the Gross decision and the McDonnell Douglass decision to review Ehrhardt's claim. Under McDonnell Douglas, there is a three prong test to analyze discrimination claims: first, a plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination; second, the defendant must articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action; and third, the plaintiff must proffer evidence sufficient to permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the reasons given by the employer were not the real reasons for the adverse employment action. Based on the facts above, the 11th Circuit affirmed the granting of summary judgment in favor of the restaurant on Ehrhardt's' AADEA claim. The restaurant was represented by one of my partners, Kyle Smith.
Practice pointer. The "but for" test adopted in the Gross decision is a concept favorable for employers. The 11th Circuits' use of both the Gross and McDonnell Douglas tests lays the groundwork for evaluating claims brought under the AADEA as well as the ADEA.