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Texas Supreme Court ruling limits age discrimination suits

Based on a recent ruling by the Texas Supreme Court, an employee who believes they were fired based on age cannot sue if the worker that replaced them was older. The issue before the Supreme Court involved a 48-year-old secretary who was fired from a South Texas school and replaced by a 51-year-old. The former secretary alleged she was dismissed because of her age and filed an age discrimination suit against the school district.

Under Texas law, job applicants and workers who are 40 years of age or older are protected against age-based workplace discrimination. Employers may not discriminate against a person in any condition of employment because of the employee's age.

In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed the former secretary's claim, explaining that an age discrimination lawsuit may proceed only if the plaintiff shows a presumption of discrimination. The justice writing for the majority stated that such a presumption cannot be made unless the individual was replaced by a younger employee.

But the court noted if a worker has direct evidence of discrimination, even if they were dismissed in favor of an older worker, the ruling in this case will not bar their claim. However, the court stated that such circumstances would be rare.

A dissenting justice argued that this new standard unfairly placed the burden of proof on the dismissed secretary and allowed the school district to skirt the issue of workplace discrimination by simply showing that her replacement was older. He commented that the majority's ruling creates a situation where a claimant must prove their case before it is even heard by a court.

Despite the dissent, the Texas Supreme Court majority's ruling stands. This means that in most cases, a claim of age discrimination will reach a court only if a plaintiff was replaced by a younger worker.

Source: American-Statesman, "Supreme Court restricts age discrimination lawsuits if replacement employee was older," Chuck Lindell, June 29, 2012

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