Appeals Court Affirms Ruling for Legal Collector Sued for Age Discrimination

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has affirmed a lower court’s ruling in favor of a collection law firm that was sued for allegedly discriminating against a woman for not hiring her back for a collector’s position because of her age, when in fact she had been notified of poor performance as a collector before transferring to a different role within the company.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Merhulik v. Weltman Weinberg & Reis can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff was employed by the defendant for seven years before being laid off as part of a company downsizing in 2016. She began at the firm as a legal collector and was promoted to quality assurance specialist midway through her tenure at the company. While working as a collector, she received written notifications that her performance was unsatisfactory and was put on performance improvement plans on at least two occasions.

She was 59 years old when she was laid off, and claims that she was not offered lesser collector positions when she was laid off. The plaintiff claims that the defendant used the age of employees as one of the criteria to rank employees when determining which ones to lay off.

Two years ago, the plaintiff applied for a job opening as a collections specialist at the defendant, but was not contacted for an interview. The plaintiff accused the defendant of wording its job listings to “intentionally seek out” younger individuals by asking “are you looking to start your career in the legal field.” The plaintiff also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, whose investigation was closed with the issuance of a right to sue letter to the plaintiff.

A District Court judge granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which the plaintiff appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

The defendant posted two openings that the plaintiff applied for. The defendant never hired anyone for the first position and the the plaintiff was not hired for the second position because the defendant said her prior work experience showed that she was not a good candidate.

“Although Plaintiff goes to great lengths to argue that she met the minimum job requirements of level position, accepting the bare minimum is not the legal standard for pretext,” the Sixth Circuit wrote. “The record shows that Merhulik received five corrective actions for unsatisfactory performance. Periods of improve bookended with less-than satisfactory work. Her time at Weltman fell short of Defendant’s objective expectations of her employment, so when Merhulik reapplied years after her separation from Weltman, her previous poor performance was not somehow transfigured into sterling credentials. Given her prior performance, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that Defendant’s proffered reason for its failure to hire her hid a discriminatory motive.”

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