Employees can’t win age discrimination lawsuits based solely on an offhand remark referring to an employee’s age. That’s because, unlike many other forms of employment discrimination, age discrimination cases require employees to prove that age was the reason for termination or some other negative employment action.

Unless there’s more evidence, a mere comment isn’t enough.

Recent case: Celia Hnizdor was 67 years old when her employer, Pyramid Mouldings, decided to consolidate many accounting and management functions from several locations in different states into one facility. The company moved the jobs to Florida.

However, Pyramid Mouldings concluded that it couldn’t offer transfers from Illinois for clerical employees like Hnizdor. Paying relocation costs wouldn’t be cost-effective when replacement employees could easily be hired in Florida.

Hnizdor got the bad news in a private meeting with the HR director. He told her that she would lose her job in the restructuring and then asked her how old she was. She told him and he allegedly suggested that it might be time for her to retire. She said she didn’t want to because she felt good and liked to work. Hnizdor was then terminated along with other clerks in Illinois.

She then sued, alleging she had been fired because she was 67. Her major piece of evidence was the comments allegedly made by the HR manager.

The court tossed out Hnizdor’s claim. It said that, in light of the other evidence that showed the company wanted to restructure its functions and hire Florida clerks, the comments attributed to the HR director weren’t proof that age was the reason she was terminated. (Hnizdor v. Pyramid Mouldings, No. 05-C-1740, ND IL, 2010)

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