Age Discrimination Proof Required In New Jersey
A plaintiff in an age discrimination case must show that age, as a prohibited consideration, played a role in the decision making process and that it had a determinative influence on the outcome. Miller v. CIGNA Corp., 47 F.3d 586, 597 (3d Cir.1995).
The mechanics of establishing and prevailing with a prima facie case of discriminatory discharge are well set forth in Maiorino v. Schering-Plough Corp., 302 N.J. Super. 323, 346-47, 695 A.2d 353 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 152 N.J. 189, 704 A.2d 19 (1997), where we said:
To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, a plaintiff must show that:
(1) he was a member of the protected class;
(2) he was performing the job at the level that met the employer's legitimate expectations;
(3) he was discharged;
(4) the employer sought another to perform the same work after the complainant had been removed from the position." Catalane v. Gilian Instrument Corp., 271 N.J. Super. 476, 496-97, 638 A.2d 1341 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 136 N.J. 298, 642 A.2d 1006 (1994).
Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, a presumption is created that the employer unlawfully discriminated against the applicant. Andersen v. Exxon Co., supra, 89 N.J. at 492-93, 446 A.2d 486.
The burden then shifts to the defendant employer to rebut the presumption of discrimination by articulating a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Andersen v. Exxon Co., supra, 89 N.J. at 493, 446 A.2d 486.
The defendant employer, however, only carries the burden of production, rather than persuasion, to show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action: "It is sufficient if the defendant's evidence raises a genuine issue of fact as to whether it discriminated against the plaintiff." Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, supra, 450 U.S. at 254, 101 S. Ct. at 1094, 67 L. Ed. 2d at 216 (footnote omitted).
The defendant employer need not prove that its proffered reason actually motivated its behavior because throughout this burden shifting model, the burden of proving intentional discrimination always remains with the plaintiff employee. Martinez v. National Broadcasting Co., 877 F. Supp. 219, 228 (D.N.J. 1994).
After the defendant employer has sufficiently set forth a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action, the plaintiff then has the burden of persuasion to show that the defendant's proffered reason is merely a pretext, i.e., that it was not the true reason for the employment decision. Andersen v. Exxon Corp., supra, 89 N.J. at 493, 446 A.2d 486.
A plaintiff may accomplish this by showing that:
(1) a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer than the employer's proffered legitimate reason, or (2) the defendant's proffered explanation is "unworthy of credence." Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, supra, 450 U.S. at 256, 101 S. Ct. at 1095, 67 L. Ed. 2d at 217.