Could an employee show that the reason he was fired was age discrimination and not for a safety violation?
Johnnie Brooks Jr. worked as a foreman for Davey Tree Expert Co. in Clarksville, TN.
The company required its foremen to conduct a safety briefing each work day before the crew started work.
One day, Brooks was a foreman for one crew sent to cut down trees. A second crew with a separate foreman was also sent to the location. While Brooks was in his truck, he got a call on his cell phone, telling him the foreman of the other crew had been hit by a tree.
Brooks says on that day, he held a safety briefing with his crew.
However, his supervisor, James Barker, issued a safety violation notice to Brooks that said “no job briefing conducted.”
Days later, Davey Tree fired Brooks, telling him that if he had been in the vicinity of where the other foreman was working, the injury might not have taken place.
Brooks filed a lawsuit, alleging he was wrongfully terminated based on his age.
He cited several instances in which Barker had made age-related derogatory comments to him. On one occasion, Barker allegedly said to Brooks, “You’re too old to be doing that kind of stuff anymore.” Another time, Brooks says Barker called him “an old fart.”
Another employee said Barker bragged about the termination, saying he was getting rid of the “old crew,” and remarking repeatedly that it was good to get rid of “the old guys” because they had “old habits” and that “new guys were more teachable.”
Davey Tree sought to have Brooks’ lawsuit thrown out on the grounds that it fired him for a safety violation.
However, a federal court has ruled that Brooks presented enough evidence of potential age discrimination to have the case go to trial. Now Davey Tree will either face a trial or may try to reach a settlement with Brooks.
(Brooks v. Davey Tree Expert Co., U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit, No. 11-5102, 4/17/12)