Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Sued for Age Discrimination

By way of disclaimer, I am a graduate of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, which in my biased opinion is an excellent public school.  In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks Unionville High School the  10th best public high school in Pennsylvania and the 507th best public high school in the nation, out of approximately 22,000 schools, which places it roughly in the top 2% of public schools.  Yet, despite its prestige the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District was recently sued by one of its employees for alleged discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). 

Summarily, a paraprofessional at the school in her late 50s alleged that she was disciplined for reprimanding students while a significantly younger 30 something-year-old employee who similarly reprimanded the same group of students was praised for her actions.  Additionally, the employee alleged that the school’s principal (also a 30 something-year-old) made allegedly discriminatory comments about the employee having a “senior moment.” 

The outcome of the case remains to be seen, but the school district suffered a loss earlier this month when the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied its motion to dismiss becaues the court found that the employee plausibly alleged age discrimination.  Interestingly, it appears that it was the employee who first used the term “senior moment” when explaining to the principal why she couldn’t remember something.  When the principal, in turn, commented on the employee’s self-proclaimed senior moment, the employee complained that the principal’s statements were offensive and that he needed to be careful about commenting about a person’s mental capacity or ability.  It’s a lesson how in the employment law context the saying “what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander” does not necessarily ring true.  In other words, if an employee blames their age as the reason for their mistake, supervisors should be trained to steer clear of those traps. 

Another challenge that the school district faces is overcoming what looks like disparate treatment of employees who disciplined students under allegedly similar circumstances.  Here, the senior employee was disciplined for her actions while the 30 something-year-old employee was praised for taking allegedly similar action.  If the only distinguishing factor was the age of the employee, this case might not go well for the school district.  This is why employers need to administer discipline on a uniform basis. 

As a member of the Unionville High School class of 2000, I wish my school district the best of luck in defending this case, but then again, we are talking about a school district where an Indian remains the high school mascot. 

This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

 

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