Thursday, October 20, 2022

Ageist and ableist statements to 58-year-old disabled employee doom employer’s discrimination defense

"I wouldn't think with your condition and—your medical condition and your age that you would want to teach."

"I think your disability is slowing all this down.… You're really too old to be doing this."

"You need to go ahead and retire.… I'm concerned about this disability you have, your condition with your liver."

"Just how disabled are you?"

"I'm tired of disabilities and I'm tired of medical problems."

"I'm not running a rehabilitation clinic."

"If you're not at 100 percent, I can't use you. You've got to be 100 percent for this job."
These are just some of the comments Robert Bledsoe — a 58-year-old nuclear-plant operator who returned to work following a liver transplant — claims his supervisor made to him in the months prior to his removal from a teaching position. The Tennessee Valley Authority, on the other hand, claimed that it demoted Bledsoe based on ethical concerns after his son was accepted to the training program he taught.

The 6th Circuit concluded that a jury should decide Bledsoe's age and disability discrimination claims.
Bledsoe has presented evidence from which a reasonable juror could find that Dahlman frequently criticized him about his age and disability. Viewing the facts and drawing inferences in the light most favorable to Bledsoe, a jury could find that Dahlman persuaded the other Committee members to demote him rather than find a reasonable alternative to resolve the ethics issue. Although a jury could reasonably find that TVA acted sensibly in response to an ethical problem, it could also find that the Committee impermissibly deferred to Dahlman, whose prejudice influenced the Committee's decision.

This seems like quite the reasonable decision. If you don't want a court to second-guess your personnel decisions, it's probably a good idea not to make ageist, ableist, sexist, racist, or any other -ist statements during the lead-up.