PHILADELPHIA – An appellate judge has ruled to affirm a trial court decision in dismissing an age discrimination termination action from the former operations manager of a laboratory company.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Judge Kent A. Jordan ruled Nov. 29 plaintiff Clive Baron’s wrongful termination action against Abbott Laboratories would be dismissed, in keeping with the prior granting of summary judgment made by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

As detailed in the original District Court case, Baron was originally hired by the STARLIMS software firm in 2007 as its Chief Business Development Officer, and after Abbott acquired the firm in March 2010, Baron became the General Manager for Europe and Africa for Abbott’s STARLIMS division.

Baron excelled in the role and received excellent performance reviews for his establishment of new businesses in his coverage territory. After an internal reorganization, Baron was placed in charge of all STARLIMS operations as Manager of Global Operations.

A later shake-up of STARLIMS management led to the elimination of Baron’s position – and due to not being given a reason for his firing, Baron presumed it was due to his age at the time, which was 60 years old.

Baron also pointed to colleagues who were promoted or hired after his departure, all of whom were younger than he. One of these colleagues included Richard Lanchantin, then 59 years old, who was hired in a similar, but not identical, role to Baron’s.

In response, Abbott denied the charges and explained Baron’s role being eliminated was due to an internal company restructuring and not due to any kind of discrimination.

Baron then filed suit in the District Court, alleging he was wrongfully terminated under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). However, the District Court granted summary judgment to Abbott last March, leading Baron to appeal in the Third Circuit Court.

Like the District Court, Jordan governed judgment of the case by a three-part paradigm – whereupon, it was incumbent for Baron to provide prima facie evidence of age discrimination, Abbott to provide a “legitimate, non-discriminatory rationale” for the firing (if necessary) and finally, for Baron to show that same rationale was pretext for discrimination.

But, Jordan felt failed to meet the criteria needed for the first prong of that paradigm: establishing a prima facie case of age discrimination.

“Baron was 60 years old at the time of his termination, was terminated from his position as General Manager of STARLIMS, and performed well during the course of his employment. The parties disagree, however, about whether Abbott retained similarly-situated younger employees after Baron was terminated,” Jordan said.

Jordan said the younger employees Baron cited as being retained by Abbott, Simon Wood (six years younger than Baron) and Tamir Gottfried (21 years younger than Baron), were not “similarly-situated” to him, a key criterion.

“While Baron was responsible for STARLIMS operations around the world, Wood and Gottfried were each responsible for operations in only one of STARLIMS’s geographic regions. In fact, the only employee who was similarly situated to Baron around the time of Baron’s termination was Scott Goss. Goss was nearly 19 years younger than Baron and, like Baron, was terminated as part of Abbott’s reorganization,” Jordan clarified.

“To the extent that Baron argues that he was replaced by a substantially younger employee when Abbott hired Lanchantin, we disagree. While it is true that Baron was replaced by Lanchantin, it cannot fairly be said that the latter was ‘substantially younger’ than the former. Lanchantin was 59 when he was hired, just one year younger than Baron was when terminated. In context, this is not enough of an age difference to raise an inference of age discrimination,” Jordan added.

Ultimately, Jordan said Baron did not meet the standards necessary to prove his case.

“Because Baron has failed to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, we need not consider whether Abbott provided a sufficient, non-pretextual business justification for its actions,” Jordan said.

The plaintiff is represented by Edward S. Mazurek of The Mazurek Law Firm.

The defendant is represented by Jonathan F. Bloom and Andrew S. Esler of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young in Philadelphia, plus Courtney R. Baron and Jon E. Klinghoffer of Goldberg Kohn, in Chicago, Ill.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 16-1627

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:14-cv-04706

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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