The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey denied defendants motion for summary judgment in favor of the employee. The court held that that the Plaintiff employee established a prima facie case of age discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) finding ambiguity in the terms of his termination and defendants different reason for termination in summary judgment raised genuine issues of material facts and potential pretext for discrimination. Although the Court concluded there was no direct evidence of age discrimination, the Court used the McDonnell Douglas burden shifting analysis to determine that defendant’s stated non-discriminatory reason for Plaintiff’s termination could be a pretext for age discrimination in violation of the NJLAD.
In Buchholz v. Victor Printing Inc., the Plaintiff, Mr. Richard Buchholz worked at Victor Printing Inc. as a pressman from June 1986 through 2006. In 2006, Victor Printing reduced Mr. Buchholz’ hours to three days a week claiming that there was less work available for Mr. Buchholz because he was not trained on the new multi-color press machines that Victor Printing had acquired. Following the reduction in hours, Plaintiff accepted a full time job as a driver and his compensation remained the same at $17.50 per hour. He was then 63 years old. In 2008, Mr. Buchholz survived a lay off in which eight other Victor Printing employees were terminated.
A series of incidents occurred in the five months preceding Mr. Buchholz’ termination involving complaints from individuals who came in contact with Mr. Buchholz while he was driving the Victor Printing van. An individual called Victor Printing and complained about an encounter he had with Mr. Buchholz where Mr. Buchholz confronted the driver about his driving and got out of the van to see if it had been hit. Another individual called and complained Mr. Buchholz had cut him off while exiting the New Jersey Turnpike nearly causing an accident. A customer also complained that Mr. Buchholz had inappropriately complained about Victor Printing when Mr. Buchholz told the customer the boxes were too heavy and Victor Printing never sent anyone to help him. On October 15, 2009, the day before Mr. Buchholz’ termination, Mr. Buchholz hit a parked truck belonging to a large client of Victor Printing, Edmunds Direct Mail. The truck and the Victor Printing van were damaged and Mr. Buchholz failed to report the incident to Victor Printing or to Edmunds Direct Mail.