ILNews

Circuit Court finds no age discrimination

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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A doctor whose job was terminated as part of hospital restructuring didn't provide enough evidence to show he was let go based on his age, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.

In Laverne Tubergen v. St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care Center, Inc., No. 06-4304, Dr. Tubergen filed a discrimination complaint against St. Vincent under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. In an effort to streamline its operations and become more efficient, the hospital hired James Houser as its chief operating officer. Before restructuring, St. Vincent had a "service line" for each of the nine medical specialties it provided, and each service line was run by a medical director, who was a physician, and an executive director that was a nurse.

Tubergen - a 65-year-old ear, nose, and throat doctor - served as a medical director. He had a two-year contract for part-time employment with the hospital that could be terminated by either party after 90 days written notice.

Houser determined the service-line structure was an inefficient way to run the hospital and abolished the system. The structure was replaced with a similar dual-leadership role that spread across several clinical specialties. More than 300 positions were eliminated as a result, including Tubergen's job. Houser met with Tubergen to tell him his job was eliminated as a result of the cutbacks and that he was welcome to apply for any of the newly created positions. Tubergen never applied for any positions because he believed the hospital would not take him seriously.

A co-worker told Tubergen that she had been told by another co-worker that Houser had commented he was "getting rid of the old guard." Tubergen took that statement to mean the older employees at the hospital, even though Houser made the comment in regards to the children's hospital personnel. Tubergen filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in late 2003 and filed suit in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana in 2004. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the hospital.

The 7th Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision, finding Tubergen provided insufficient evidence to back his age discrimination claim. Tubergen argued Houser's alleged comments about "the old guard" could give rise to a reasonable inference of age discrimination. The record showed the co-worker who overheard the comment noted it was in reference to the children's hospital, where Tubergen did not work. Also, it is possible to not take the reference of "the old guard" to literally mean "old" people, and it's more likely in line with getting rid of the previous structure, not individuals, as Houser explained he meant it in his deposition, wrote Judge Joel Flaum.

The record showed Tubergen was considered for other positions; however, he was not a qualified candidate. Tubergen also made no effort to apply for other jobs within the hospital, wrote Judge Flaum.

In addition, those who remained with the hospital after the restructuring varied in age, and the ages of the more than 300 people whose positions were eliminated also varied.

"Overall, the record reflects that Tubergen cannot employ the direct method to make a case for age discrimination," wrote Judge Flaum, noting Tubergen could also try to pursue his claim with the indirect method.

However, his claim would also fail the method's four-prong test, which requires evidence that other similarly situated employees who were not members of Tubergen's protected class or were substantially younger were treated more favorably. The hospital provided both its younger and older employees the same placement opportunities after the restructuring, he wrote.
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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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