No Age Discrimination to Replace Employee with Computer Software
By Ted Olsen
In a case showing that robotics may have an adverse effect on the employment rate of persons who perform non-repetitive tasks and exercise judgment, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a dismissed employee whose functions were replaced by a new process and related computer software cannot present a prima facie case of discrimination. Gortemoller v. Int'l Furniture Mktg., Inc., No. 10-15689 (11th Cir. July 20, 2011). Summary judgment for the employer was affirmed.
To present a case of disparate treatment age discrimination, a plaintiff must show he or she "was replaced by or otherwise lost a position to a younger individual." In Gortemoller, the plaintiff's duties - such as "conducting research to determine what new product to produce," "working with designers on product," "selecting designs produced by" his employer, "developing and merchandising product," and "traveling to market to sell product and evaluate the competition" - were simply characterized as those of an "intermediary between salespeople, customers, and designers." When the plaintiff was fired, the company implemented a web-based computer program that allowed salespersons to communicate directly with designers about what products were needed and allowed customers to provide feedback directly to salespeople and designers. As the plaintiff was replaced by a new process and computer software, not a younger person, he failed to present a prima facie case of age discrimination.
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©2011 Sherman & Howard L.L.C. September 1, 2011