WV Adopts “Substantially Younger” Rule in Age Discrimination

West Virginia's employment law for age discrimination has now come into line with federal precedent. In Knotts v. Grafton City Hospital, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals formally adopted the “substantially younger” rule as recognized by the United States Supreme Court in O’Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp., 517 U.S. 308 (1996). This decision is very important for West Virginians pursuing age discrimination cases.

To show a prima facie case of age discrimination, a plaintiff must show: (1) the plaintiff is over the age of 40; (2) the employer made an adverse decision concerning the plaintiff; and (3) but for plaintiff’s status as being over the age of 40, the adverse decision would not have been made. The third prong is merely a threshold where the plaintiff is required only to show an inference of discrimination.

Under Knotts, a plaintiff can satisfy the third prong by presenting evidence that he or she was replaced by a “substantially younger” employee, or by presenting evidence that a “substantially younger” employee, who engaged in the same or similar conduct for which the plaintiff faced an adverse employment decision, received more favorable treatment.

Previously, West Virginia applied the “over40/under40” rule. This meant that a plaintiff could only show an inference of age discrimination by offering evidence that an employee under 40 replaced the plaintiff or received more favorable treatment.

The “substantially younger” rule is the better rule. For example, assume Bill is a 63-year-old manager at ABC Company. Bill is terminated and replaced with Jeremy, a 41-year-old. Under the old rule, evidence that a 63-year-old was replaced with a 41-year-old was not permissible because Jeremy was not under 40. Now, such evidence can be used to show age discrimination because ABC Company replaced Bill with a substantially younger employee.

If any adverse employment action has been taken against you, including termination, because of your age (over 40), contract The Moore Law Firm to discuss your options. We fight hard to ensure your employment rights are protected.