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Publix Supermarket Prevails in Age Bias Suit

In late June 2021, the U.S. Federal District Court in South Carolina handed down a decision granting summary judgment in a case brought against Publix Super Markets, Inc. by a former employee. The employee was terminated in January 2018, ostensibly for disobeying corporate policy to refrain from physical interaction with alleged shoplifters, but plaintiff argued that it was due to his age. The District Court found that the plaintiff had not adequately established a prima facie case of age discrimination, however, ruling on a very narrow basis that there was no genuine issue of material fact.

An experienced attorney may be helpful in determining whether you have a case of age discrimination. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Specific Criteria for Claims

In December 2017, the former Publix employee tackled a shoplifter, trying to keep the person from getting away with stolen items. While their actions did stop the person temporarily, they were in direct violation of corporate policy, which forbids physical contact with shoplifters (the usual reasons for such a policy have to do with avoiding civil liability). As a result, the employee was terminated in January 2018. He filed suit approximately 1.5 years later, claiming violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

In order to establish a claim under the ADEA, one must show that (1) they are over 40 years of age (the employee was 59 years old at the time of the incident); (2) they were performing their job in a satisfactory manner; (3) they experienced negative employment action, such as a pay cut or demotion; and (4) a reasonable person could infer that action happened for a discriminatory reason. The court held that reasons (2) and (4) were not adequately established by the plaintiff.

Failure to Establish a Claim

The District Court held that as a result of openly violating Publix’s policies (and not disputing that he did so), there is a question of whether the plaintiff was performing their job appropriately or not. By definition, an employee violating company policy may create a presumption that they are not performing their job to their employer’s satisfaction, and while that may be debatable, raising the question is enough for the court to say that the issue was not established enough to base a discrimination claim upon.

As for reason (4), the plaintiff attempted to establish age discrimination by presenting two younger coworkers, both of whom had allegedly had physical contact with shoplifters and not been disciplined or terminated. Plaintiff argued that they were “similarly situated” to him and yet had not been disciplined – but the court found that the coworkers’ interactions had been (a) in self-defense, while plaintiff had acted affirmatively; and (b) were subordinate to a different boss, which the court held was dispositive. Since no claim could be established under the ADEA, the court held that summary judgment was appropriate.

Get Legal Help Today

While the Publix employee was unsuccessful in his suit, you may be more successful in yours if you believe that you have been discriminated against due to your age, or to any other protected characteristic. A South Carolina employment discrimination attorney can help – Attorney A. Christopher Potts and the firm of Hitchcock & Potts have years of experience with these types of cases and can try to assist you with yours. Call us today to schedule a consultation and speak to an attorney.

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