The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employers from demoting or failing to promote an employee on the basis of her age, and from retaliating against an employee who has complained of age discrimination. In 2014, Luz González-Bermúdez brought an ADEA claim against her employer, Abbott Laboratories, P.R. Inc., and her former supervisor. She alleged that they discriminated against her when they demoted her after almost thirty years with the company, and retaliated against her by giving her undeservedly negative performance reviews and by failing to promote her after she filed an age-discrimination complaint against them. The jury found in favor of Ms. González, and the district court upheld the jury’s verdict.
The First Circuit reversed, holding that Ms. González had not shown sufficient evidence that she was discriminated against when the company demoted her following a department-wide reorganization. The court held that that evidence that younger employees were not similarly demoted was insufficient because they did not share the same exact duties, titles, and supervisors. In addition, holding that a reasonable jury could not have found that there was enough evidence in the record to prove retaliation, the court applied a standard that would have required Ms. González to show affirmative evidence of retaliation, despite the jury’s disbelief of the company’s purported reasons.
Public Citizen serves as co-counsel for Ms. González in the U.S. Supreme Court. The petition for certiorari presents two questions, both on issues as to which the federal courts of appeals have reached conflicting decisions. First, the petition asks the Court to address the standard for determining whether a plaintiff in an ADEA case is similarly situated to her colleagues—specifically, whether they must share the same exact duties, titles, and supervisors. Second, the petition asks the Court to resolve the conflict among the courts of appeals regarding application of Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133 (2000), which held that a jury’s disbelief of an employer’s proffered nondiscriminatory reason for an adverse employment action can sustain an inference of discrimination. On October 12, 2021, the Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari.