In Irvin v. Ascension Parish School Board, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana denied Defendant’s motion for summary dismissal of a claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”).  In Irvin, Plaintiff alleged that her employer failed to promote her on account of her age (58) and instead selected a younger candidate for the position (50 years of age). The employer contended that the other candidate was better qualified and that age was not a factor in its decision.  The employer also argued that age discrimination was not possible since both candidates were nearly the same age and both were protected class members under the ADEA.

The ADEA prohibits age discrimination against people who are 40 years of age or older. To establish a prima facie age discrimination claim, Plaintiff must show: (1) she was at least 40 years old; (2) she was not selected for a position; (3) she was qualified for the position; and (4) either someone “substantially younger” was hired or she was otherwise turned down because of her age.  Satisfied that Plaintiff easily met the first three categories, the Court analyzed the third, ultimately finding that the candidate selected was “substantially younger” than Plaintiff.  While the Court did not set a bright-line rule defining “substantially younger,” a difference of 8.25 years met the threshold for this Court when considering a motion for summary judgment.  The Court found it non-determinative that both candidates were over 40 and therefore both protected class members under the ADEA.

This decision highlights that a plaintiff can sustain an age discrimination claim even when both candidates are over 40 years old. While courts are split on the issue, employers should ensure that they rely on objective factors unrelated to age when making personnel decisions.