A job applicant who was allegedly told by a company official that he was “trying to find someone younger” can pursue an age discrimination claim, a federal appeals court ruled Monday, overturning a lower court ruling.
Elwyn Robinson, who was 61 at the time, applied unsuccessfully for a production manager position in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based PPG Industries Inc.’s facility in Mojave, Calif., according to court papers i Elwyn Robinson v. PPG Industries Inc. and David Sebold.
Mr. Robinson sued paint supplier PPG in US District Court in Pasadena for age discrimination and retaliation under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. The district court granted the company summary judgment and was partially reversed by a three-judge appeals court.
David Sebold allegedly told Mr. Robinson that he was “trying to find someone younger who could develop into a role,”; according to Monday’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
“Viewed in the light most favorable to Robinson,” this statement “constitutes direct evidence of discrimination and creates a triable issue of fact as to whether ‘discriminatory animus’ influenced the employment decision,” the ruling said.
Mr. Robinson was also told by a third-party recruiter that Mr. Sebold was concerned that he was “too senior” for the role, the panel said.
“California courts have held that references to seniority do not necessarily mean age,” it said. “However, in this case, the phrase ‘too old’ does not stand alone; there is other evidence in the record from which a trier of fact could conclude that Sebold did in fact mean too old,” it said.
This includes an email from the recruiter indicating that Mr. Sebold also advised PPG’s human resources office that Mr. Robinson was “too senior,” it said.
The panel affirmed the dismissal of Robinson’s retaliation charge, stating that he failed to show that he engaged in activities protected by FEHA.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.