Earl v. Nielsen Media Research

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Employment Law
  • Date Filed: 09-26-2011
  • Case #: 09-17477
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Judge Hug; Senior Circuit Judge Reavley
  • Full Text Opinion

When analyzing whether someone is similarly situated in an age discrimination case, the proper inquiry is not whether he or she are outside the protected class, but whether the comparable employees are significantly younger then the claimant.

In 1994, Christine Earl was hired by Nielsen Media, Inc. (“Nielsen”) at age 47. She worked for 12 years until her termination in 2006. Earl brought claims for age and disability discrimination under the California Employment and Housing Act, as well as claims wrongful termination. The State of California uses the McDonnell Douglas test for workplace discrimination claims. Under the McDonnell Douglas test, the district court found that Earl had satisfied the first prong of establishing a prima facie case. The district court then found that Nielsen had articulated legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for Earl’s termination, and therefore granted summary judgment on all claims. Earl appealed the age discrimination and wrongful termination claims, arguing she had sufficient evidence showing the reasons for her termination were mere pretext. The Court focused on two of Earl’s arguments. First, that Nielsen treated younger similarly situated employees more favorably. Earl presented evidence that younger employees, who committed violations similar to ones she had committed, were not terminated. The district court found that the other employees were not similarly situated because the violations were different and one comparable employee was also in the protected age class of Earl. The Court however, found that whether or not they were similarly situated is a question of fact for a jury and the operable analysis should be based on the difference in age, not on whether they are in the protected group. Second, Earl claimed Nielsen deviated from its normal disciplinary procedure in her case. The Court concluded that there was evidence showing a more lenient disciplinary policy for younger employees. REVERSED in part, AFFIRMED in part, and REMANDED.

Advanced Search