Ninth Circuit Upholds Summary Judgment for Employer in Age Discrimination Case

Volume 2, Issue 5
May 23, 2003

Earlier this week, in Pottenger v. Potlatch Corp., No. 02-35235 (9th Cir. May 19, 2003), the Ninth Circuit Court took a surprisingly conservative approach and upheld summary judgment in favor of the employer in an age discrimination case.

Charles Pottenger was terminated after 32 years of employment with Potlatch Corp., at the age of 60. He claimed that he was let go because of his age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Potlatch Corp. stated that the reason for his termination was that they had a lack of confidence that Pottenger could make the hard decisions necessary to turn around the division he headed, which was in consistent financial trouble. In support of this claim, Mr. Pottenger submitted that his last performance review included positive comments and that the meeting in which he was terminated was very brief. The Ninth Circuit Court determined that Mr. Pottenger failed to show that the employer's stated reason for his termination was pretextual, i.e. a false reason to cover up and hide unlawful discrimination. The court held that employers like Potlatch have leeway to make subjective business decisions, even bad ones.

This case emphasizes that it is up to the plaintiff to offer proof that the reason given by a company as the basis for an employment decision is false and designed to hide unlawful discrimination. Without any such proof, the court can grant summary judgment to an employer, which resolves the case without the need for a trial.

KZA Employer Report articles are for general information only; they are not intended and should not be construed to be legal advice. Reading or replying to such articles does not establish an attorney-client relationship. In addition, because the subject matters and applicable laws discussed in Employer Report articles are often in a state of change and not always applicable to every type of business entity or organization, readers should consult with counsel before making decisions based on the same.