Federal and state employment discrimination laws do not require employers to be fair and reasonable in determining when to fire an employee; they require that the employer not discriminate against the employees based upon a protected class. This point was illustrated in the First Circuit Court of Appeals April 29, 2014 decision of Robert Adamson v. Walgreens Co. In that case, Robert Adamson had filed an age discrimination claim under both federal and state law (Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”)) and state law (MGLA ch. 151B, §4(1B)). That Court, which hears appeals from federal trial courts of both New Hampshire and Massachusetts, ruled that the federal trial judge was correct in granting summary judgment to Walgreens thereby prohibiting Adamson from having his age discrimination case decided by a jury.
Adamson worked for Walgreens as an Assistant Manager since 2007; first in Florida at the age of 55 years old and then one year later he relocated, and worked various locations in Massachusetts. On October 1, 2010, while working at the Ware, Massachusetts store, a customer spoke to a cashier regarding attempting to make a return. Adamson, as the Manager on duty, was taking a delivery in the back of the store and a complaint was made because the customer could not make the return since Adamson was unavailable. Thereafter on February 5, 2011, Adamson opened the Ware store alone because the other employee scheduled to work that morning had not arrived and Adamson left the cashier’s station open while he was in the back looking for the telephone number of the other employee. A customer, who was unable to make a purchase because no store employee was available, made a complaint. Five days later Walgreens fired Adamson. He attempted to argue that his firing due to the customer complaint was a pretext to conceal the real firing reason of age discrimination. The Court in carefully analyzing the actual evidence concluded that a rationale jury could not find that Walgreens’ reason for firing him was a pretext to hide its age discrimination animus. The Court noted that evidence of a pretext can be shown by such weaknesses, implausibility, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer’s proffered legitimate reasons that a reasonable jury could rationally find them unworthy of credence and hence infer that the employer did not act for the asserted non-discriminatory reason. In this matter, the Court found that no reasonable jury could find pretext because Walgreens had first provided a warning and thereafter fired him based upon similar customer complaints of Adamson’s actions. Even if Adamson thought it was unduly harsh for Walgreens to fire him because he temporarily left the front of the store unattended in February 2011 because the other employee that was supposed to show up had not shown up, so long as Walgreens had fired him for that reason, rather than because of his age, he had no legal claim.
J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].