A federal district court, in a split opinion, reversed a lower court on Wednesday and reinstated age and disability discrimination and retaliation charges filed by a Tennessee Valley Authority nuclear power plant operator who was allegedly demoted over ethics concerns.
Robert Bledsoe, who was appointed as an instructor at a TVA training course in October 2016, took medical leave for a liver transplant in February 2017, according to the ruling by the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in Board of Robert Bledsoe v. Tennessee Valley Authority.
Shortly after he returned to work, his supervisor began commenting on Mr. Bledsoe’s health and age, including saying things like, “I think your disability slows all of this down… You̵7;re really too old to be doing this.“
After Mr. Bledsoe’s son was accepted into an educational program that Mr. Bledsoe was teaching, a committee including the supervisor was formed to issue an ethical opinion on the matter. The committee voted to demote Mr. Bledsoe from his instructor position, resulting in an annual salary reduction of $28,000.
Mr. Bledsoe filed suit in US District Court in Chattanooga, Tennessee, alleging discrimination based on his age and disability in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Rehabilitation and Retaliation Act.
The district court granted TVA’s summary judgment dismissing all claims, which a majority opinion by a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals reinstated.
“Reasonable alternatives to demotion,” which included moving Bledsoe to another instructor position, “make it more likely — although not certain — that (the supervisor), rather than the ethical conflict, caused Bledsoe’s demotion. The jury, rather than the court , should determine which explanation appears more plausible,” the panel said in reinstating Bledsoe’s charges and remanding the case for further proceedings.
The dissenting opinion said, “All in all, the evidence is insufficient to show that (the supervisor) manipulated all three of his colleagues on the committee.”
A TVA spokesman said in a statement that it is “currently reviewing the mixed decision of the 6th Circuit Court in this matter and considering future legal options.”
Mr. Bledsoe’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Last month, a federal appeals court reinstated an age discrimination lawsuit filed by a worker who was the alleged victim of a “relentless and ruthless” age-based harassment campaign, according to a split opinion.