Ninth Circuit Finds in Favor of Plaintiff’s Age Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

Ninth Circuit Finds in Favor of Plaintiff’s Age Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

April 11, 2017
Employment Discrimination

In Santillan v. USA Waste of California, Inc., the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal held that, “(1) Santillan established a prima facie case under both his age discrimination and retaliation theories; and (2) USA Waste failed to introduce any evidence that it had a legitimate reason for firing him.”  The company fired Santillan on December 5, 2011, after 30 years of employment and after he began reporting to a new supervisor.  That supervisor also fired or suspended 4 other employees who were over the age of 40.  Santillan retained an attorney and negotiated a settlement agreement under which he was reinstated.  However, before he was allowed to return to work, Santillan was again terminated, allegedly due to his inability to provide the information the company needed to complete an I-9.  He alleged he was terminated due to his age and the fact that he had retained an attorney to negotiate after his initial termination.

The company moved for summary judgment and the trial court granted the motion, but the Ninth Circuit reversed that decision. The Ninth Circuit held that Santillan met the prima facie case for age discrimination based on the 4 other older workers who had similar adverse actions taken against them, as well as the fact that Santillan’s replacement was 13 years his junior (he was 53 and the replacement was 40).  The Court then held that the company failed to present a legitimate business reason for its decision to terminate Santillan, because Santillan was exempt from the I-9 requirements since he was already an employee of the company who was being reinstated.

The Court also held that Santillan established a prima facie case of retaliatory wrongful termination in violation of public policy based on his having an attorney represent him in the negotiations that resulted in his initial reinstatement.  The use of an attorney is protected by California public policy, and the fact that his termination occurred two months later created a nexus between the two things because “The causal link between a protected activity and the alleged retaliatory action ‘can be inferred from timing alone’ when there is a close proximity between the two.”

You can read the complete decision here:

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