The reasons a company gave for firing its most productive salesman – who also happened to be its oldest – raise potential credibility issues, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. The judges decided the salesman’s age discrimination lawsuit should proceed to a jury.
The appellate court reversed summary judgment in favor of Temco Machinery Inc., which makes custom fire trucks and other rescue equipment, on John Mullin’s lawsuit. Mullin was 56 when the company fired him because, according to the CEO, “we’re paying you too much for your sales.” The company also claimed that his sales performance had declined and he didn’t show up at events with clients. Mullin had received the company’s Salesman of the Year awards the two years prior to his firing.
Just days after he and another salesman in his 50s were fired, Temco hired two inexperienced salesman in their 20s.
The District Court granted Temco’s motion for summary judgment on Mullin’s suit alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
“A reasonable jury could conclude that Temco fired Mullin because of his age,” Judge Joel Flaum wrote in John W. Mullin II v. Temco Machinery Inc., 13-1338. “Mullin has put forth ample circumstantial evidence, including examples of suspicious timing and ambiguous statements. Moreover, each of Temco’s alleged reasons for firing Mullin is either genuinely contested, seemingly inaccurate, or both.”
Flaum pointed to the CEO’s claims that Mullin didn’t attend an event hosted by a fire department or show up at work to give a tour to a client. But Mullin refuted those claims with testimony from individuals that he was at the fire department event and he was present and gave the tour to the client.
Although some of the incidents Mullin points to, standing alone, would not suffice for Mullin to survive summary judgment, when considered together, “they point to a string of questionable conduct, from the suspicious timing of personnel decisions to ambiguous statements about age to multiple seemingly inaccurate allegations,” Flaum wrote.
The case is remanded for further proceedings.