A witness statement can be critical in proving any discrimination case. This is especially in true with regard to age discrimination cases which are known for being some of the more difficult cases to prove, because evidence of animus toward an employee because of his age and not for some other reason is so rarely available. However, the good news for older workers who consider bringing a claim against their former employer for (age) discrimination, is that even one single piece of evidence, such as one incriminating statement by a supervisor about older workers can make a case.
The recently published case Cheal v El Camino Hospital out of Santa Clara (2014)is a classic example of a situation where the whole case rested one witness statement. In the case the plaintiff a 61 year-old female who worked at a hospital for over 30 years as a Dietetic Technician was fired for the number of alleged violations and performance deficiencies. Ms. Cheal and her attorney were able to show that most of her alleged violations and performance issues were either not her violations at all, or not nearly as serious as the employer claimed and should not have lead to Plaintiff’s termination. However, as it has been long established, that alone does not prove discrimination, as the employer has sound discretion in evaluating employees’ performance and being too harsh or wrong in evaluating employees is not the same as discriminating.
However, Ms. Cheal present additional evidence that proved to be critical in overturning the dismissal of her case and allowing her to go to trial. She introduced a witness statement of a friend who stated in her sworn affidavit that when she had dinner with Plaintiff’s manager, the manager stated “people at work start noticing that I favor the younger and the pregnant employees” The court found this kind of admission by the manager in an outside-of-workplace environment to be an extremely compelling evidence of age discrimination.
A lesson for every potential plaintiff in a discrimination or wrongful termination case is to do your homework and ask as many people as possible whether they have any information or whether they overheard any conversation among the management that would support your discrimination claims.