A federal judge has ruled against a former executive administrative assistant who alleged age discrimination in her workplace, saying that the plaintiff’s complaint acknowledged her position was eliminated due to advances in technology.
As a result, a motion for summary judgment by her former employer was granted by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
U.S. District Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. made the ruling in an Oct. 29 opinion, which granted both the motion for summary judgment and the defendant’s motion to strike the plaintiff’s surreply.
“Plaintiff has failed to rebut Defendant’s non-retaliatory reason for her termination ‘by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination,’” Alston wrote.
The case is Jones v. Marriott International LLC (VLW 021-3-504).
According to the opinion, plaintiff Teresa Jones began working as an executive administrative assistant at the Residence Inn Arlington Capital View in Arlington in May 2015. Jones’ role included greeting people who entered the hotel’s executive offices, responding to letters, taking meeting minutes and handling mail, among other similar duties.
Jones was informed in August 2018 that Marriott, the hotel’s parent company, had decided to eliminate her position due to technology improvements that had “largely absorbed her administrative and clerical duties.” Marriott also informed Jones that her remaining duties would be absorbed by other employees.
In December 2018, Jones applied to a vacant property coordinator position at the Arlington Capital View. She was interviewed for the position on Dec. 13, 2018, by the hotel’s front office manager in a “public area of the hotel.”
According to the opinion, the front office manager interviewed another candidate for the role in the hotel restaurant’s private dining area. That candidate was ultimately offered the position, and Jones was terminated from her original role on Dec. 28, 2018.
Jones filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 2019. The EEOC issued a charge finding in February 2020, ruling that it was “reasonable to believe age played a factor” in the hotel’s hiring decision. According to the complaint filed by Jones, she was 62 at the time of the alleged discrimination, while the hired candidate was 33.
On June 5, 2020, Jones filed suit against Marriott, alleging two counts of discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Jones alleged that the interview process was biased and deviated from Marriott hiring guidelines. She also claimed that the front office manager engaged in age-based discrimination, with the result that Jones was not offered the property coordinator position “even though she was the most qualified candidate for the job.”
Jones’ suit alleged two counts of age discrimination: one based on her termination and one alleging a failure to hire in violation of the ADEA.
On the first count, Alston wrote that to prevail, Jones had to show that she was 40 years old or older at the time of her termination, that she was qualified for the job and meeting expectations, and that she was nonetheless terminated in favor of a younger employee.
Alston wrote that Jones’ own complaint worked against her, as she admitted that her position was eliminated because of advances in technology.
“Marriott did not ‘replace’ Plaintiff with ‘a substantially younger individual’; the company instead eliminated her position altogether,” the judge wrote.
Alston continued, “Because Plaintiff’s own allegations defeat any claim she was replaced by a substantially younger individual, she fails to establish this element of her prima facie ADEA discrimination claim.” As a result, he ruled in favor of Marriott, granting summary judgment.
Jones’ second count was more complex. At issue was the need to show that “she was rejected for the position under circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination.”
Marriott contended that Jones’ failure-to-hire claim could not survive summary judgment because the hotel had “a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason” for choosing to hire the other candidate.
The judge agreed.
“Although she had developed meaningful administrative and clerical experience, Plaintiff simply did not have significant experience in managing or facilitating events or acting as a primary contact for such an event,” Alston wrote.
Alston added that the candidate that was hired “brought such experience to bear after having worked in a similar role at another Marriott property.” The hired candidate also had significant experience working with Amazon customers and its billing system, a skillset Marriott called “a valuable asset in attracting business with the company in the competitive Northern Virginia market.”
Alston concluded that Jones did not show that Marriott advanced a fraudulent reason for deciding to employ the other candidate nor that the true reason for selecting that candidate was impermissible under the law.
“Based on the record before it, the Court cannot conclude that Defendant’s stated reasons for hiring [the candidate] over Plaintiff were pretextual,” Alston wrote.
Additionally, the judge noted that Jones’ allegations of age discrimination were “exclusively directed” against the front office manager that conducted the interview. However, the opinion states that the record showed the front office manager “lacked ultimate decision-making authority over hiring for the property coordinator position.”
“Because no reasonable factfinder could conclude Defendant’s reasons for failing to hire Plaintiff for the Arlington Capital View property coordinator position were pretextual, summary judgment on Plaintiff’s ADEA failure-to-hire claim must be granted,” Alston concluded.
The opinion gave Jones 30 days from the date of entry to file a written notice of appeal. As of Nov. 16, there is no information in the court database on whether an appeal will proceed.
According to the initial complaint, Jones was represented by McLean attorneys Merritt Green, J. Andrew Baxter and Hailey Breanne Render. Marriott International LLC was represented by Kara Maciel and Daniel Deacon from Washington, D.C.