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Fired Radiology Tech Sues, Claiming Age Bias

August 25, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Practice Management
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Radiology technician Jessie Garrett lost her job because she wasn’t able to properly operate the imaging equipment.

Or, she lost her job because of age discrimination.

Which statement is true? That question is before a court. Garrett, claiming age discrimination, has sued Shelby Medical Holdings, owner of Shelby Regional Medical Center, where she worked until she was fired in March. The 44-bed medical center is in Center, Texas.

Here are the facts, as reported by the Southeast Texas Record, a legal journal based in Beaumont, Texas:

  • Garrett is 68.
  • She has worked off and on for the hospital for more than 40 years, most recently (beginning in 1989) as a radiology technician.
  • Her lawsuit says hospital management complained that she was “too slow,” “forgetful,” and “not comprehending well.”
  • The lawsuit says the real reason for Garrett’s firing was age discrimination, which is prohibited by the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
  • She is seeking reinstatement, back pay, front pay (money awarded for compensation to cover the period from a judgment until reinstatement), damages, and payment of her attorney’s fees and other costs.

So was she really slow, forgetful, and cognitively challenged? Or is all that just code for “too old”?

Does the truth lie somewhere in the middle?

Tricky questions, aren’t they?

Exactly how tricky can be gleaned from reading “Avoiding Age Discrimination at High-Tech Firms,” by Robert R. Berluti. Berluti posted the article on the Web site of Berluti McLaughlin & Kutchin LLP, a Boston law firm in which he is a partner. The firm specializes in representing businesses. (Thanks to imagingBiz for pointing us toward the article.)

Berluti details several practices that might seem perfectly reasonable to businesses but might look to juries like pretexts for age discrimination. For example:

“A typical rationale for firing is that an employee’s skills are outdated. Too often, however, employers transparently try to fulfill the prophecy by assigning less demanding work to older workers, then claiming that they are less productive. Ironically employers frequently underestimate the skills of these workers, taking the attitude that you ‘can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’

“In many instances, 50-year-olds have, in fact, performed advanced tasks through the years, making them at least as proficient as workers 20 years younger. In this light jurors may well view the outdated skills rationale as shallow.”

Berluti, perhaps not so incidentally, is 57. He got a top rating, AV Preeminent 5.0, this year in the respected Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review, so he certainly seems to be at least as proficient as lawyers 20 years younger.

Anyway, we’re glad that, should this case go to trial, we won’t have to be on the jury.

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Related seminar: The Business of Radiology


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