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Discrimination

Legal issues to consider with a Reduction in Force: reorganization of work versus replacement of job

No discrimination exists when an employer, in the course of restructuring the business, terminates an employee and does not replace him or her, but arranges to have other employees absorb the work.  In LeBlanc v. Great American Insurance Co., 6 F.3d 836 (1st Cir. 1993), the plaintiff lost his job due to a reduction in force.  He claimed that he was replaced by a younger employee, and argued that the reason behind the reduction in force was age discrimination.  The Court agreed with the employer that a reassignment of duties from a discharged employee to another is not the same as replacing an employee with someone else who is outside the protected class, “A discharged employee is not replaced when another employee is assigned to perform the plaintiff’s duties in addition to other duties, or when the work is redistributed among other existing employees already performing related work.  Rather, a person is replaced only when another employee is hired or reassigned to perform the plaintiff’s duties.’”

The First Circuit went on to say that an employer doesn’t have to discharge a certain percentage of employees before it can implement a reduction in force, “An employer need not dismiss any particular number of employees, or terminate a set percentage of the work force, to institute a reduction in force.  Rather, ‘[a] work force reduction situation occurs when business considerations cause an employer to eliminate one or more positions within the company.’” 

In a more recent case, the federal court in Boston ruled that an employee cannot sue for pregnancy discrimination under federal law when the evidence showed that the company had not hired anyone to replace the employee following the elimination of her job.  The court rejected the employee’s argument that the complete elimination of her job relieved her of having to show that the the company had a continuing need for the work she performed.  The court noted that there was no evidence that other employees performed work within the employee’s responsibilities after her termination.  The court also found the employee’s claim for pregnancy discrimination under state law, which is less stringent than federal law, to be unpersuasive.  The court ruled that the employee showed the company’s reasons for terminating her employment were a pretext for discrimination.  “Even though she contends that defendant was filling open positions for directors for other regions, she fails to establish that those positions faced the same marketplace changes as the New England area.”  LaPorte v Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings.  

Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
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pam@pamsmithlaw.com

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