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  • Fifth Circuit Recognizes Age Based Discrimination Claim for Hostile Work Environment

    Dediol v. Best Chevrolet, Inc., 10-30767 (5th Cir. Sept. 12, 2011)

    The Fifth Circuit, for the first time, extended Title VII to address a hostile work environment claim based on age. The Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in a case where a 65-year old born-again Christian accused his employer of forcing him to resign his job by creating a hostile work environment because of his age and religion.

    Sixty-five year old Milan Dediol’s claims against his former employer contain a body of facts that will have you feeling as though you did something wrong by just reading them. Dediol alleges that his problems at Best Chevrolet car dealership began when he asked for a morning off to volunteer at a church event.  Dediol’s supervisor, Donald Clay, overrode the permission given by his assistant manager, Tommy Meladay, when he told Dediol, “You old mother******, you are not going over there tomorrow” and “if you go over there, [I’ll] fire your f****** ass.”  According to Dediol, this was just the beginning of a two month period of harassment during which Clay made numerous derogatory statements about his age and religion and even threatened him with physical harm. A sampling of Clay’s comments and behavior, which resembles a list that should be titled WWJND (What Would Jesus NOT Do?), include:

    • Clay never referring to Dediol by his name but slurs such as “old mother******,” “old man,” and “pops.”
    • Derogatory remarks pertaining to Dediol’s religious beliefs which included, “Go to your God and [God] would save your job,” “God would not put food on your plate,” and “go to your f****ng God and see if he can save your job.”
    • Clay putting his shoes on Dediol’s desks and stating, “Do you see these shoes? Your God did not buy me these shoes. I bought these shoes.”
    • Physical intimidation that consisted of threats such as, Clay removing his shirt and proclaiming, “You don’t know who you are talking to. See these scars. I was shot and in jail.”
    • After Dediol requested permission to move to the New Car Department, and was preliminary approved by Melady, Clay ultimately denied the transfer and stated, “Get your old f*****g ass over here. You are not going to work with new cars.”
    • The day before Dediol stopped showing up for work, Clay proclaimed, “I am going to beat the “F” out of you” and then charged towards Dediol during an office meeting.

    Dediol met with managers of the dealership the day after Clay charged towards him and told them that he could no longer work under the above mentioned conditions. That was the last day that Dediol showed up for work and he was subsequently terminated for abandoning his job.

    Dediol filed a lawsuit claiming hostile work environment based on his age (ADEA) and race (Title VII) and constructive discharge. The district court, finding no genuine issues of fact, granted Best Chevrolet’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed Dediol’s claims. However, the Fifth Circuit disagreed and reversed the lower court’s decision.

    The court’s decision is significant in that it held, for the very first time, that a plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim based on age discrimination under the ADEA may be advanced in the Fifth Circuit.  The court reached this decision by extending Title VII protection against discrimination that creates a hostile work environment to age discrimination claims.  In adopting a broader view of Title VII, the Fifth Circuit followed the lead of the Sixth Circuit, which explained in Crawford v. Medina General Hosp., 96 F.3d 830, 834 (6th Cir. 1996) that “the general similarity of purpose shared by Title VII and the ADEA; and the fact that the Title VII rationale is of equal force in the ADEA context” support the application of the hostile work environment doctrine in ADEA actions.  Also in the minority is the Second Circuit that has held that “the analysis of the hostile working environment theory of discrimination is the same under the ADEA as it is under Title VII.” Brennan v. Metropolitan Opera Assoc. Inc., 192 F.3d 310, 318 (2nd Cir. 1999).

    The case has been remanded for further proceedings, so it remains to be seen if Dediol will have the final word and last laugh in this saga.