Virginia Lawyers Weekly//November 22, 2021
Virginia Lawyers Weekly//November 22, 2021//
Although a former executive administrative assistant alleged she was terminated because of her age, her own complaint stated her position was eliminated because much of her job had been absorbed by advances in technology and that other tasks were dispersed to other employees.
Teresa Jones began working as an executive administrative assistant at the Residence Inn Arlington Capital View in May 2015, a property owned by defendant Marriott International LLC. After Jones was not hired for a property coordinator position, and was then terminated, she sued Marriott, alleging two counts of age discrimination: (1) discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, or ADEA and (2) and failure to hire in violation of the ADEA. Marriott has filed a motion for summary judgment.
To prevail on an ADEA discrimination claim through pretext, a plaintiff must make a prima facie showing “that (1) at the time of her firing, she was at least 40 years of age; (2) she was qualified for the job and performing in accordance with her employer’s legitimate expectations; (3) her employer nonetheless discharged her; and (4) a substantially younger individual with comparable qualifications replaced her.” Here, plaintiff fails to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to her ADEA discrimination claim because she has failed to establish that “a substantially younger individual with comparable qualifications replaced her.”
According to plaintiff, Marriott eliminated her position as an executive administrative assistant because much of her job had been absorbed by advances in technology. Certain other tasks plaintiff performed were dispersed to other employees, who worked across different Marriott departments. Therefore, Marriott did not “replace” plaintiff with “a substantially younger individual”; the company instead eliminated her position altogether. 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.
Failure to hire
Defendant contends that, even assuming plaintiff is able to make out a prima facie case, her failure-to-hire claim under the ADEA cannot survive summary judgment because Marriott had a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for hiring a different candidate for the property coordinator position.
According to Marriott, plaintiff lacked the qualifications of the candidate defendant ultimately hired for the property coordinator position (Ms. Dillon). 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; Ms. Dillon, on the other hand, brought such experience to bear after having worked in a similar role (as an events specialist) at another Marriott property.
Furthermore, plaintiff lacked experience with Amazon’s booking system—a tool the hotel planned to adopt in light of Amazon’s 2018 announcement that the company would locate its headquarters in the area. Defendant argues that it saw Ms. Dillon’s record of working with Amazon customers and its billing system as a valuable asset in attracting business with the company in the competitive Northern Virginia market.
Based on the record before it, the court cannot conclude that defendant’s stated reasons for hiring Ms. Dillon over plaintiff were pretextual. And the EEOC cause finding in plaintiff’s case does not, on its own, create a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment on her ADEA discrimination claim. Neither do plaintiff’s allusions to the perceived unfairness of the interview process amount to competent summary judgment evidence.
Plaintiff’s failure-to-hire claim under the ADEA faces still another hurdle. Her allegations of age discrimination are exclusively directed against Mr. Frost. But it is clear from the summary judgment record that he lacked ultimate decision-making authority over hiring for the property coordinator position; that authority was left to Terry Duvall. Were plaintiff to demonstrate that Mr. Frost exercised some “influence or even substantial influence in effecting a challenged decision,” that alone would be insufficient to prevail on summary judgment.
Defendant’s motion for summary judgment granted.
Jones v. Marriott International LLC, Case No. 1:20-cv-636, Oct. 29, 2021. EDVA at Alexandria (Alston). VLW 021-3-504. 12 pp.