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Tenth Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment In Hospital's Favor On Former Employee's Age Discrimination Claims


HLD, v. 30, n. 12 (December 2002)

Tenth Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment In Hospital's Favor On Former Employee's Age Discrimination Claims

Plaintiff Iyla Carter sued her former employer defendant Newman County Memorial Hospital in federal district court for wrongful termination, alleging she was fired because of her age and was subject to a hostile work environment in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). According to defendant, Carter, who was nearly sixty-five at the time, was terminated as part of a reduction in force. Carter's employee evaluations generally had been favorable, although they noted her inability to finish work on time. Applying the McDonnell Douglas Corp v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), burden-shifting analysis, the district court found Carter had established a prima facie case of discrimination but concluded she failed to show defendant's proffered reason for dismissing her was pretextual. The court also found Carter failed to produce sufficient evidence of a hostile work environment. Carter appealed.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed. First, the appeals court agreed with the lower court's conclusion that age-related comments by Carter's direct supervisor did not evince an ADEA violation. Specifically, the appeals court noted the lack of evidence that the supervisor had any decision-making authority over the termination or that any connection existed between the comments and Carter's termination. Second, the appeals court characterized certain questions by her employer about when Carter would retire as "stray remarks" that "are insufficient to create a jury issue in an ADEA case." Third, the appeals court rejected Carter's contention that the reduction in force was unnecessary because defendant was not struggling financially as a reason for finding pretext. According to the appeals court, "[e]vidence of financial health or an imprudent or erroneous [reduction in force] decision may supplement evidence of pretext, but standing alone, it does not suffice to make out an ADEA violation." Fourth, the appeals court discounted testimony of other former employees allegedly harassed or fired because of age. In the appeals court's view, the employees' testimony did not create an inference of age discrimination. Finally, the appeals court found that Carter failed to demonstrate that defendant deviated from stated reduction in force criteria--namely, job classification, job performance, and seniority. Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in defendant's favor on Carter's ADEA claim.

The appeals court also affirmed the lower court's holding on Carter's hostile work environment claim. In so holding, the appeals court found that none of the evidence presented by Carter demonstrated the kind of pervasive and severe conditions necessary to support such a claim.

Carter v. Newman Mem'l County Hosp., No. 01-3273, 2002 WL 31341528 (10th Cir. Oct. 18, 2002) (8 pages).

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