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Maine Federal Court permits age discrimination case against Clair to go to trial

On September 9, 2010, Judge Hornby of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine adopted the recommendation of Magistrate Judge Rich to permit Joseph Donahue, Jr.’s age discrimination case to go to trial. Mr. Donahue brought the case against his former employer, Clair Auto Group.

Clair Auto Group terminated Mr. Donahue’s employment in 2007. At the time of his termination, Mr. Donahue worked in Clair Auto Group’s Honda store in Saco as the Parts Manager. Clair terminated Mr. Donahue so that it could replace him with someone almost 40 years younger. Clair had transferred this younger replacement to the Honda store prior to Mr. Donahue’s termination because it believed Mr. Donahue would retire in the near future. Mr. Donahue claims that he had a conversation with the Executive Manager of Clair not long before the Executive Manager terminated him. During that conversation, the Executive Manager asked Mr. Donahue when he planned to retire. Mr. Donahue told him that he did not have any plans to retire. Soon afterwards, the Executive Manager terminated him.

The Court determined that a jury could reasonably disbelieve Clair’s purported explanation for its decision to replace Mr. Donahue with someone almost 40 years younger. It further determined that a jury could conclude that the actual reason for Mr. Donahue’s termination was age discrimination. The Court made this determination, in part, because Clair failed to keep its story straight. Clair told the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) that Mr. Donahue and his younger replacement were both generally good workers and capable parts managers. They claimed that they had to make a tough decision between Mr. Donahue and his replacement because they were both capable parts managers and Clair could only afford to keep one of them. Later on in the case, the Executive Manager contradicted what Clair told the MHRC. He testified that Mr. Donahue was generally not a good worker. He described Mr. Donahue not as a capable parts manager but, rather, as an employee who he had to repeatedly discipline for performance problems.

Mr. Donahue denied that the Executive Manager ever disciplined him. The Executive Manager admitted that, contrary to company policy, he did not document this alleged discipline. He had no explanation for his failure to follow company policy.

Additionally, there was evidence that some of Mr. Donahue’s co-workers regularly referred to him as an “old geezer.” There was also evidence that these co-workers influenced the Executive Manager’s decision to terminate Mr. Donahue.

The Court also decided that Mr. Donahue could only bring his age discrimination claims against the Clair Saco Honda store where he worked, as opposed to against the Clair Auto Group as a whole.

This case is currently scheduled for a jury trial this fall.