O'Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corporation

PETITIONER: O'Connor
RESPONDENT: Consolidated Coin Caterers Corporation
LOCATION: Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp.

DOCKET NO.: 95-354
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 517 US 308 (1996)
ARGUED: Feb 27, 1996
DECIDED: Apr 01, 1996

ADVOCATES:
George Daly - Argued the cause for the petitioner
James B. Spears, Jr. - Argued the cause for the respondent
Paul R. Q. Wolfson - On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner

Facts of the case

James O'Connor, 56, was fired by Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp. and replaced by a 40-year-old worker. O'Connor filed suit alleging that his discharge violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The District Court granted Consolidated's summary judgment motion. In affirming, the Court of Appeals held that O'Connor failed to make out a prima facie case of age discrimination because he failed to show that he was replaced by someone outside the age group protected by the ADEA since his replacement was 40 years old.

Question

Can an employee file an age discrimination suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 if his or her replacement is 40 or older?

Media for O'Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 27, 1996 in O'Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corporation

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in Number 95-354, James O'Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corporation.

Mr. Daly.

George Daly:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

James G. O'Connor had a successful career with the Consolidated Coin Caterers Corporation until the summer of 1990, and at age 56 he was terminated.

He was replaced by a 40-year-old employee.

Two weeks before the termination decision was announced to him, and arguably on the day that it was made, his boss came to his office and he said, O'Connor, you are too damn old for this kind of work.

After a little brief colloquy after that, he got up and left.

Mr. O'Connor was terminated despite having an exemplary record, both historically and recently.

His most recent performance evalued was commendable.

He had at the end of the preceding year received the largest performance bonus of anybody in the company.

He had a better record than his replacement, who had a slightly below average performance evaluation for the preceding year, and who throughout their career had ranked lower in the company salary class classification.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Daly, the question on which we granted certiorari was whether a plaintiff can allege a prima facie case under the Age Discrimination Act by showing that he was replaced simply by a younger person, or does he have to show that he was replaced by someone outside the protected class.

George Daly:

Thank you, sir, I--

William H. Rehnquist:

I think some of the facts that you're talking about would be relevant perhaps in the trial court or the court of appeals but less relevant here.

George Daly:

--Well, I appreciate that.

I state them briefly thus because they are such an important background and they focus the importance of the issue, which, as you say, is whether this plaintiff is going to lose the benefit of the McDonnell Douglas presumption because the person who replaced him is 40 rather than 39.

Antonin Scalia:

I'm not sure why he needs the presumption, given the facts you've stated.

I mean, if he has his employer saying you're too old for this job, does he really need a McDonnell Douglas presumption?

Wouldn't that be enough to establish a prima facie case?

George Daly:

In the Fourth Circuit in this case, it was not.

The Fourth Circuit ruled that he did not have a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas because his replacement was not under 40.

Antonin Scalia:

Well, I know under McDonnell Douglas he wouldn't have one, but what does it take to establish enough to survive a motion for summary judgment?

George Daly:

In the Fourth Circuit it takes nexus, and they held that he did not have nexus because, even though under the record it's quite possible that the boss came in and said you're too old for this kind of work on the very day that the decision was made, since he was fired 2 weeks later, the circuit court said there's not enough nexus.

I suppose that's their new word for causation.

And for that reason, this very meritorious case is dependent precisely and only upon the McDonnell Douglas paradigm in order to succeed.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Mr. Daly, I thought that the Fourth Circuit said that that was just a sporadic comment, bantering.

It wasn't enough, just that... there were a few isolated comments, they said.

George Daly:

They said that they were stray remarks.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Right.

George Daly:

Yes, but the record shows that the person that made the decision, Ed Williams, made the remark on the decision day, arguably, O'Connor you are too damn old for this kind of work.