Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Fourth Circuit holds summary judgment for the employer was proper even if plaintiff offered proof of age discrimination

On January 20 the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a decision in favor of the VA in Baquir v. Principi, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, an employment discrimination matter. The plaintiff, Dr. Riaz Baquir alleged age, race, national origin and religious discrimination on the part of his former employer, the VA Medical Center in Asheville, North Carolina, arising out of the termination of his employment as a cardiologist. The Fourth Circuit, which affirmed the district court's award of summary judgment in favor of the VA, did not stray from its prior rulings with regard to Dr. Baquir's Title VII claims. According to the Court, Dr. Baquir did not present evidence that he was performing his job duties a level that met the VA's legitimate expectations because he was not able to work independently, without further training, as a interventional cardiologist. In so finding the Court stated that VA's assessment of Dr. Baquir's capabilities was not one it was inclined to impugn.

What is of particular note in this decision is the Court's dismissal of Dr. Baquir's cause of action for age discrimination. Dr. Baquir submitted direct evidence of age discrimination on the part of a decision-maker who allegedly stated that age was the major and only factor for his termination and that interventional cardiology was meant to be done by people in their thirties. Despite this evidence, which must be interpreted in the light most favorable to Dr. Baquir at the summary judgment stage, the Court summarily determined that the VA was not liable under a mixed motive analysis because although age was a motivating factor in his discharge the VA could demonstrate that it would have terminated Dr. Baquir even in the absence of discrimination. The Court's holding in this regard was premised on its finding that the VA presented unrequited evidence that Dr. Baquir could not perform his duties at a level that met the VA's legitimate expectations. In his lone dissent, Judge Gregory took issue with the majority's reasoning stating that it was not viable because Dr. Baquir had presented not only direct evidence of discriminatory animus, but also evidence that the discriminatory animus was the "sole motive" for his termination.

(contributed by Sandi R. Wilson)

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