When this blog looks at recent case decisions, we often explore outcomes where an injured worker was successful. Sometimes, though, cases that ended unsuccessfully provide the best lessons and tips for a worker contemplating a discrimination lawsuit. Of course, whether it involves utilizing cases where the other worker won or lost, count on a knowledgeable Atlanta age discrimination lawyer to take the law, alongside the specific facts of your situation, and combine them for the strongest possible case.
The age discrimination case of R.W. is good example of how another worker’s failure may help pave the way for your success. R.W., the deputy fire chief for a city just south of Macon, responded to a fire alert he received on his cell phone at roughly 8:00 p.m. one night in 2018.
The deputy chief’s regular shift ended at 5:00 and, in the intervening three hours, he allegedly drank one 24-ounce beer. At the scene, a lieutenant and an assistant chief each allegedly noticed the smell of alcohol on the deputy chief’s breath. The deputy chief also allegedly was “slurring his speech a little.” The deputy chief denied having consumed alcohol.
Eventually, the fire department punished the deputy chief for consuming alcohol before responding to a fire scene and initially lying about his drinking. The deputy chief sued the city, arguing that the real reason the department handed him such harsh discipline was something different: age discrimination.
In an Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) case, you have to prove several things. One of the most important is showing that the employer treated “someone similarly situated and substantially younger” than you differently in terms of their “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.” That younger colleague who gets better treatment is called a “comparator.”
Picking the right colleague to serve as a comparator in your case is extremely important. In R.W.’s case, he brought forward three coworkers. None of them were proper comparators, which was a huge reason why his case failed. The first of the deputy chief’s purported comparators was a man who was disciplined for arriving at a fire scene having consumed alcohol. That part was strong in its similarities. However, the purported comparator held a different job title and had a different supervisor. These differences were “fatal” to that coworker qualifying as a legitimate comparator.
The Law Requires Comparators to Be ‘Sufficiently Similar’ ‘
The second purported comparator was a rookie firefighter busted for boating under the influence (BUI) while off-duty. That firefighter received only a three-shift unpaid suspension. In this instance, the deputy chief made a crucial error. He essential argued that the rookie’s situation proved age bias because the rookie engaged in a more serious transgression but got a lighter punishment. The law of comparators in age discrimination cases doesn’t work that way, though. Federal age discrimination law demands that a comparator engaged in “similar” misconduct, not “similar” or “different but worse.”
The third purported comparator was a firefighter who tested positive for alcohol as part of random drug-and-alcohol screening. Again, too many dissimilarities existed. Unlike the coworker, the deputy chief “responded to a structure fire alert and drove to that structure fire in a government vehicle.” The deputy chief’s actions “were far more precarious” than what his colleague did, so that circumstance also was not sufficiently similar.
With no purported comparators passing the “sufficient similarity” test, the deputy chief’s case fell apart and the city won the case on summary judgment.
Whether your workplace discrimination case relies upon direct proof of discrimination or rests upon circumstantial proof like comparator evidence, the right legal team can help you ensure your case is as strong as possible. The Atlanta age discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert are here to help our clients do exactly that. Our team has extensive experience litigating the full spectrum of discrimination actions, including age discrimination. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.