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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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