Law School Case Brief
Bienkowski v. Am. Airlines - 851 F.2d 1503 (5th Cir. 1988)
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C.S. § 621 et. seq. is not intended to be a vehicle for judicial second-guessing of employment decisions, nor was it intended to transform the courts into personnel managers. The ADEA cannot protect older employees from erroneous or even arbitrary personnel decisions, but only from decisions which are unlawfully motivated. Even if the trier of fact chose to believe an employee's assessment of his performance rather than the employer's, that choice alone would not lead to a conclusion that the employer's version is a pretext for age discrimination. More is required, such as "direct" evidence of age discrimination, information about the ages of other employees in plaintiff's position, the treatment and evaluation of other employees, or the employer's variation from standard evaluation practices.
Henry Bienkowski worked as a security representative for American Airlines. Bienkowski was 59 years old when he was terminated and replaced by an 54-year-old employee. Bienkowski filed an action on under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C.S. §§ 621 et. seq. The district court granted summary judgment for American Airlines because it found no evidence sufficient to create a jury issue that Bienkowski was discharged because of his age rather than because of poor performance.
Did the district court err in finding that there is no evidence sufficient to create a jury issue that Bienkowski was discharged because of his age rather than because of poor performance?
The court reversed the summary judgment and remanded. The court held that it could not conclude that no reasonable jury could return a verdict of age discrimination. The court noted that the district court did not rule on the sufficiency of Bienkowski’s prima facie case, having focused its attention on the lack of evidence that American Airlines’ actions were a pretext for age discrimination. The court held that Bienkowski challenging his termination could ordinarily establish a prima facie case of age discrimination by showing that he continued to possess the necessary qualifications for his job at the time of the adverse action.
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