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Court finds enough evidence to move forward in age discrimination case against school district

[This appeal was from the ED-MI.] Defendant-public school system (TPS) was improperly granted summary judgment on plaintiff-Scheick's age-discrimination claim because he raised a genuine issue whether age was the "but-for" cause of the defendants' decision not to renew his contract as high school principal. Scheick was 56 (almost 57) when TPS decided not to renew his contract. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment after finding that Scheick failed to present direct evidence of age discrimination, and did not make a prima facie showing of age discrimination or establish "pretext." The court reversed, finding that he offered direct evidence of age discrimination through certain statements made to him by the school's superintendent, including statements that "'they just want somebody younger.'" Although not all of the statements he presented were direct evidence of discrimination, two of the statements, "if believed, would require the conclusion that age was the but for cause of TPS's decision not to renew the contract." The superintendent's "statements about wanting 'someone younger' are not ambiguous and, if believed, do not require an inference to conclude that age was the but-for cause of the decision not to renew Scheick's contract." In its amicus curie brief, the EEOC argued that "direct evidence will always defeat an employer's motion for summary judgment with respect to claims under the ADEA." However, "Gross altered the burden of proof on the issue of causation and indicates that direct evidence of age discrimination may not always be sufficient to create a question of fact for trial in the ADEA context." Thus, "even when direct evidence of age discrimination has been offered, the question to be asked in deciding an employer's motion for summary judgment is whether the evidence, taken as a whole and in the light most favorable to plaintiff, is sufficient to permit a rational trier of fact to conclude 'that age was the "but-for" cause of the challenged employer decision.'" The court concluded that, "notwithstanding the evidence of dissatisfaction with Scheick's performance and the concurrent need to respond to the budget crisis, the evidence, taken as a whole and in the light most favorable to Scheick, is sufficient to permit a reasonable juror to conclude that Scheick's age was the but-for cause of TPS's decision not to renew the contract for his services. Although [the defendants] may ultimately prove otherwise, Scheick has met his burden to come forward with evidence sufficient to establish that a genuine issue of material fact exists for trial." Reversed and remanded.

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