Published on:

Federal Court Denies Defendant’s Motions with Respect to Mainer’s Claims of Age Discrimination in Hiring

On September 2, 2010, Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Maine, John A. Woodcock, Jr., denied Defendant Mid-State Machine Product’s Motions for Summary Judgment in the case captioned Glenn Duckworth v. Mid-State Machine Products, Docket No. 09-CV-279-B-W. As set out in the Court’s decision, Mr. Duckworth worked for Mid-State Machine for over six years until he was laid off in 2002 in a reduction in force. The decision to lay off Duckworth in 2002 had nothing to do with his performance of his Gage Control Technician position. Duckworth continued to periodically contact Mid State Machine seeking employment. In 2005, Mid State Machine was, in fact, seeking someone to fill Duckworth’s former position of Gage Control Technician. When Duckworth contacted Mid-State Machine during this period he was told that they had nothing for him. Mid-State Machine subsequently hired a much younger candidate without any experience performing the job in question. Duckworth continued to contact Mid State about possible employment and in 2008 was called in by Mid State Machine’s new Human Resources Manager for an interview. Mid State Machine interviewed Duckworth and a much younger candidate with no experience performing the Gage Control Technician position and hired the younger candidate. Duckworth was 60 years old at the time that he was passed over for the position in 2008. Duckworth alleges that during one of his interviews that the manager conducting the interview told Duckworth that they needed someone who would be in the position for a long time in a way that Duckworth understood to be an ageist comment relating to Duckworth’s age and assumptions about when he would retire. Duckworth subsequently filed a Charge with the Maine Human Rights Commission and then filed a complaint in federal Court alleging violations of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and the state Maine Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) by failing to hire Duckworth because of his age in 2005 and 2008. (The Defendant filed a Motion attempting to end Duckworth’s 2005 claim on the basis that it was not timely. The Court previously denied this early Motion. See April 18, 2010 Blog Entry ) Both the ADEA and MHRA prohibit employers from refusing to hire an employee because of that employee’s age. The ADEA applies to all employers with 20 or more employees and protects all persons age 40 and older. The MHRA applies to all employers in Maine and protects all persons from discrimination in hiring on the basis of age regardless of age.
As set out in Judge Woodcock’s Order, Mid State Machine argued in its Motion that Duckworth did not fill out a formal application in 2005 and so could not make out a claim under either the ADEA and MHRA for the 2005 failure to hire. Duckworth argued that he had made every effort to express his interest in open positions and had been told by Mid State Machine, incorrectly, that no positions were available and that the Defendant’s refusal to allow him to apply for the position in question should not be held against him. The Court concluded that Duckworth could still make out a failure to hire claim even though he had not completed a formal application and denied the Defendant’s Motion on this issue. While a handful of federal courts had previously addressed this issue with respect to the ADEA, Judge Woodcock’s decision appears to be the first resolving the issue of whether an employee can make out a discriminatory failure to hire claim without having formally applied for a position under the state MHRA.
The Defendant also argued in its Motion that there was insufficient evidence to permit Duckworth’s claims to be presented to a jury. With respect to this argument, the Court found that, applying the so-called McDonnell Douglas burden shifting regime, there was sufficient evidence in the record from which a jury could conclude that the Defendant had discriminated against Duckworth in hiring on the basis of age in 2005 and 2008. The Court’s decision highlights the evidence in the record supporting its denial of Defendant’s Motions including evidence that 1) Mid State Machine shifted its rationales for not hiring Duckworth in 2005; 2) Mid-State Machine’s policy about whether and when it accepted outside applicants was ambiguous; 3) the hiring manager’s recollections about what he had heard from others regarding Duckworth’s past performance was false; 4) Duckworth had superior qualifications to the younger candidates who were hired; 5) Mid-State eschewed technical qualifications and used subjective standards to deny Duckworth employment; and 6) statements by the hiring manager that he wanted someone in the position for “a long time” directed towards Duckworth’s age of 60.
The Court has placed the case on the November 2010 trial docket. Duckworth is represented by the Maine Employee Rights Group.