Reductions-in-force present a unique issue for an employer defending its decision in a subsequent discrimination case. The employer already has its legitimate, non-discriminatory reason baked into the termination-the economics of a layoff, which often causes qualified employees to lose their jobs. For this reason, reduction-in-force cases are often singularly focused on the issue of pretext.In Beck v. Buckeye Pipeline Services Co. (6th Cir. 9/28/12) [pdf], the plaintiff claimed that the employer's use of subjective criteria to select her for inclusion in the layoff created an inference that the employer singled her out because of her age or gender.While agreeing the subjective decision-making can prove problematic in some cases, the court disagreed that its use is per se discriminatory.
Subjective criteria, it is true, sometimes make it difficult to distinguish between lawful and unlawful employment actions, and they deserve careful scrutiny.... When all is said and done, the use of subjective evaluation criteria does not by itself show discrimination, particularly in a reduction in force case.
What factors did the court rely upon to conclude that this employer's use of subjective criteria in this layoff did not create an inference of discrimination?
What lessons does this case teach hold for employers considering the use of subjective criteria in determining which employees to include in a workforce reduction?
Lexis.com subscribers can access the Lexis enhanced version of the Beck v. Buckeye Pipeline Servs. Co., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 20621 (6th Cir. Ohio 2012) decision with summary, headnotes, and Shepard's.
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