Appeals Court Rejects Age Discrimination Lawsuit

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<p><strong>Philadelphia &mdash; Nov. 29</strong><br />A former patent attorney for Saint-Gobain Corp., who claimed that he was the victim of age discrimination and retaliation when he was fired for allegedly sending anonymous poems of a sexual nature to a co-worker, lost his appeal to overturn a district court&rsquo;s judgment summarily dismissing his claims.<br /><br />On Nov. 2, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that David Bennett, who was 63 at the time of his dismissal in 2002, failed to prove that his firing was the result of age discrimination or retaliation.<br /><br />The appeals court affirmed a September 2006 decision by the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts that the company did not discriminate against Bennett due to his age and did not retaliate against him for taking part in an earlier age discrimination complaint. The appeals court also denied Bennett&rsquo;s attempts to introduce new evidence to overturn the district court&rsquo;s decision.<br /><br />Attorneys Hope A. Comisky and Amy G. McAndrew of Pepper Hamilton LLP represented Saint-Gobain and the individual defendants. Donnelly, Conroy & Gelhaar LLP of Boston acted as local counsel. &ldquo;The appeals court declared that these allegations were unfounded,&rdquo; said Comisky, a partner with Pepper Hamilton&rsquo;s labor and employment practice. &ldquo;Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, an employee who claims to have been terminated in violation of the law must prove that his age was a determining factor behind his discharge &mdash; that he would not have been fired had it not been for his age. The appeals court agreed that wasn&rsquo;t the situation in this case,&rdquo; said Comisky.<br /><br />Bennett, who was hired by a predecessor of Saint-Gobain in 1989 and worked for Saint-Gobain in its legal department in Worcester, Mass., until 2002, was fired after an internal investigation concluded he had sent anonymous, harassing poems to another employee. The former patent attorney denied writing the poems and accused his supervisors of age discrimination and retaliation.<br /><br />In June 2001, Bennett and four other members of the company&rsquo;s intellectual property law group had filed internal grievances charging that their direct supervisor allegedly said he wanted to terminate older members of the IP group. Following an internal investigation by the company, the complaints were dismissed as unfounded.<br /><br />Bennett sought to admit the internal grievances and the allegedly age-biased remarks as evidence precluding the grant of summary judgment against him. The district court ruled that the alleged discriminatory remarks were inadmissible as hearsay, and the appeals court upheld that decision.<br /><br />The company conducted an investigation after a Saint-Gobain employee received anonymous poems between the fall of 2001 and the fall of 2002. The Company hired a handwriting expert, who concluded that it was &ldquo;highly probable&rdquo; that Bennett had sent the poems to the female employee. <br /><br />The court noted that the poems used the British spelling of certain words, making the recipient of the poems believe that Bennett, who is British, might have authored the poems. During a meeting, Bennett &ldquo;was asked to spell &lsquo;meager&rsquo; &mdash; a word that appeared, spelled as m-e-a-g-r-e, in one of the poems,&rdquo; Senior Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya noted in the appeals court&rsquo;s decision. Bennett spelled the word using &ldquo;the same distinctively &lsquo;British&rsquo; spelling that the poet had used.&rdquo; Moreover, Bennett asserted he had never composed any poetry. A search of his office revealed copies of other poems he had written, the opinion noted. Saint-Gobain&rsquo;s General Counsel concluded that Bennett had sent the poems, and decided to discharge him.<br /><br />The appeals court ruled that Bennett was terminated &ldquo;strictly and solely out of a reasonable belief that the plaintiff had composed the harassing poems&rdquo; and that the decision was not based upon either age discrimination or retaliation. The appeals court noted that more than 16 months had passed between the earlier allegation of age discrimination by Bennett and other members of his department and the termination. Bennett &ldquo;also received a more favorable performance review in the year after he filed the grievance than in the year preceding the filing,&rdquo; thereby refuting his allegations of retaliation, according to the court&rsquo;s decision. </p>

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