The Prima Facie Case of Age Discrimination in Reduction-in-Force Cases
This Note proposes that courts require the plaintiff in a RIF case to show, as part of her prima facie burden, that the employer reassigned at least part of her job responsibilities to a younger individual of equal or lesser qualifications. Part I describes the analytical framework applied to most intentional discrimination cases the McDonnell Douglas framework. Part II explains that the RIF plaintiff cannot meet the specific requirements of the prima facie case as articulated in McDonnell Douglas because her firing occurs in conjunction with the elimination of her position. This Part then examines two approaches taken by the courts with respect to the prima facie case in the RIF context and concludes that neither approach achieves the primary goal of the McDonnell Douglas prima facie case: prospectively refuting the most common legitimate explanations for the employer’s conduct. Part III recommends that courts adopt a prima facie case that requires a RIF plaintiff to demonstrate that she possesses equivalent objective qualifications to the retained, younger employee(s) and that her employer did not eliminate completely her job responsibilities but only her position. Together, these elements are sufficient to support an inference of employment discrimination in the RIF context.