Age Discrimination Claim Sufficiently Pled; Allegations Include Replacement by Substantially Younger Person

In Swanson v. Lilly USA, LLC, Case No. 1:23-cv-00831-TWP-TAB (S.D. Ind. Jan. 10, 2024), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim of age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

From the decision:

The ADEA makes it unlawful “for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge an individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age.” 29 U.S.C. ยง 623(a)(1). To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination under McDonnell Douglas, Swanson must show that (1) she was a member of the protected class (age forty or older); (2) she was discharged or demoted; (3) at the time of their discharge or demotion, she was performing her job at a level that met her employer’s legitimate expectations; and (4) following her discharge or demotion, she was replaced by someone substantially younger. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973); O’Connor v. Consol. Coin Caterers Corp., 517 U.S. 308, 310 (1996); Hartley v. Wis. Bell, Inc., 124 F.3d 887, 893 (7th Cir. 1997) (considering a ten-year difference in age to be “substantial.”). However, to adequately plead a claim of age discrimination, Swanson is only required to allege much less.

The prima facie standard set in McDonnell Douglas is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement. Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 510. To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff is not required to allege facts corresponding to every element of a prima facie case of age discrimination. Id. Plaintiffs are only required to meet the pleading standard set forth by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2). Id. at 512. Rule 8(a)(2) only requires a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).

Swanson was a member of the protected class at all relevant times. At the time of termination, she was 50 years old. It is undisputed that Swanson was terminated. It is also undisputed that at the time of her termination, Swanson was meeting Lilly’s legitimate expectations. Furthermore, in the Amended Complaint, Swanson alleges that she was replaced by someone substantially younger than her. Lilly argues the Amended Complaint states no basis upon which Swanson could know this information. However, Swanson’s response in opposition elaborates on the ages of the employees who replaced her (see Filing No. 52 at 8); see Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n. 1 (7th Cir. 2012) (“A party appealing a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal may elaborate on [her] factual allegations so long as the new elaborations are consistent with the pleadings.”). At the time of the [Covid-19 Vaccine] Mandate, Andrew Bauman is believed to have been 38 and Katherine Thrasher is believed to have been 32.

Based on this the court concluded that plaintiff has pled enough facts for a plausible age discrimination claim.

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