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Eleventh Circuit Addresses Two Questions of Law Under ADEA

Tennessee Federal District Court Update

Eleventh Circuit Addresses Two Questions of Law Under ADEA

Last month, the Eleventh Circuit handed down two decisions involving interpretations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  In Villarreal v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Pinstripe, Inc. (11th Cir., No. 15-10602, 10/05/2016), the main issue was whether the ADEA allowed an unsuccessful job applicant to sue an employee for using a practice that had a disparate impact on older workers; and the secondary issue was whether the applicant was entitled to equitable tolling of his claim for disparate treatment. The majority answered “no” to both issues. The 11th Circuit affirmed the trial court in part and remanded for the panel to address the remaining issue about whether the continuing-violation doctrine made applicant Villarreal’s claim of disparate treatment timely.

The court relied on the plain text of section 4(a)(2) of the ADEA which covered disparate impact discrimination against employees only, but not applicants. The court contrasted section 4(a)(1) which specifically covered refusal to hire in disparate treatment discrimination cases. Additionally, the court had no difficulty concluding, as a matter of law, that a plaintiff who did nothing for two years was not diligent and, therefore, was not entitled to equitable tolling. Dissents were filed relative to both findings.

In Williams v. Poarch Band of Creek Indians (11th Cir., No. 15-13552, 10/18/2016), Williams, a 55-year old laboratory manager and chief medical technologist of over 21-years for the employer, appealed the trial court’s decision to dismiss her discrimination case. Williams filed suit against the employer, the Health Department operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, asserting that her employment was terminated because of her age and that she was replaced by a 28-year-old female who did not have enough experience to be a lab manager in violation of the ADEA. The 11th Circuit affirmed the dismissal, concluding that the Poarch Band was entitled to tribal sovereign immunity from Williams’ ADEA claim.

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