A 65-year-old employee was laid off as part of a reduction in force. She claimed her supervisor had made age-related comments, and the company failed to follow its published RIF criteria by not considering her seniority.
She sued, claiming age discrimination, but a district court didn't buy her story and neither did an appeals court. Reason: Even if her supervisor made age-related comments, that supervisor didn't have any decision-making power over her termination, so there was no connection between the stray remarks and her discharge.
The court added that overlooking her seniority during the layoff process may supplement an employee's evidence of discrimination, but standing alone it doesn't prove age discrimination. "The wisdom of a RIF is not for a court or a jury to decide," the court said. (Carter v. Newman Memorial County Hospital, No. 01-3273, 10th Cir., 2002)
Advice: Too many employers fail to document carefully reasons and procedures for their layoffs. Don't become one of them. Clarify in writing who's involved in the decision-making process, as well as the criteria used to determine which employees are to be laid off and why. Then follow those criteria to a T. If you have to deviate from the policy, make sure it is for a clear business reason, and it is well documented.