Here’s a lesson: Don’t call your employee an “old fart,” especially if you think you may need to fire him someday.
And don’t call his co-workers “old farts” right before you fire the co-workers.
And don’t give your “old fart,” who has only a first-level warning on his record, three or four “progressive” warnings on the day that you fire him.
And don’t try to invoke “employment at will!” to justify any of the above.
Every now and then a case comes along that illustrates so well all the things that employers should not do*. The case of Goudeau v. National Oilwell Varco is just such a case. So let’s do a “post-mortem” on the employer’s motion for summary judgment, which was originally granted but was reversed last week by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit**, meaning that the plaintiff’s age discrimination claims will go to a jury.
*According to the court’s decision, the employer vigorously disputes the plaintiff’s allegations. But at the summary judgment stage, the court had to assume that the plaintiff’s version of any disputed facts was the correct one.
**The Fifth Circuit hears appeals from federal courts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. This case originated in Texas.
Maurice Goudeau had worked for NOV’s predecessor since 1993, and was promoted at some point to maintenance supervisor. In 2008, NOV acquired his company, and he continued to do just fine. But in September 2010, when he was in his late 50s, he began reporting to a new supervisor.