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Off-Hand Comment by Low-Level Supervisor Not Enough to Establish Age Discrimination

July 29, 2013
Western Michigan Federal Courts

In Adams v. Interkal Inc., Chief Judge Paul L. Maloney granted summary judgment in favor of Interkal on Adams' claims that (1) he was discriminated against on the basis of his age when he was involuntarily laid off by Interkal in April 2010; and (2) he was retaliated against for filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against Interkal. Adams alleged that his supervisor "used to tell me how old I was" and "would just say, well, when are you going to retire?"  The court held that these statements were insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to age discrimination because (1) Adams failed to identify any particular circumstances in which his supervisor made these statements; (2) there was no estimate of how many times such statements were made; and (3) the supervisor who made the statements played no role in Adams' firing. The court concluded that an "off-hand comment by a low-level supervisor" was insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether age discrimination took place.

The court also rejected Adams' argument that Interkal failed to recall him from layoff in retaliation for him filing an age discrimination claim with the EEOC. Interkal executives allegedly acknowledged that they were "upset by Mr. Adams' charges and that they believed he was costing the company money."  However, the court found that this alone was insufficient to establish a prima facie case of retaliation, as the other evidence in the record demonstrated that Interkal had legitimate reasons for not recalling Adams from layoff.

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