The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding in favor of a terminated Time Warner Cable employee (Time Warner) who was subjected to age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Westmoreland v. TWC Administration LLC , 924 F.3d 718 (4th Cir. 2019). The jury awarded the employee $334,500 in damages.
The legal standard for establishing age discrimination under the ADEA is known as the McDonnell Douglas framework. The framework consists of a three-part test where the court engages in a burden-shifting analysis in order to determine whether an employee was fired because of his or her age. First, the burden is on plaintiff/employee to establish a prima facie case. Second, the burden shifts to defendant/company to give a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for termination. Third, the burden is back on plaintiff/employee to prove that the reasons provided in part two are not true reasons for termination; rather, they were pretext for age discrimination.
Here, the dispute between the employee and Time Warner centered on the third part of the test, pretext. Time Warner stated that they fired the employee due to “trust and integrity issues” which resulted from the employee telling a subordinate to edit the date on a form. However, after the violation, the employee was told that it was a minor violation and that she would simply receive a “slap on the wrist”. Time Warner provided no other reasoning for why it fired the employee.
The Fourth Circuit held that the employee provided enough evidence of pretext where she showed that she was fired after 30 years of work with a satisfactory record, that her supervisor made a condescending, age-related remark after firing her, and where the violation that supposedly led to her termination was considered minor. The jury award of $334,500 was upheld because Time Warner could not provide a legitimate reason for the employee’s termination.