An appeals court has reinstated an age discrimination lawsuit filed by a group home's caregiver, who contended a younger employee was treated more leniently in a case involving reporting of physical and sexual abuse against a disabled resident at their place of employment.
Marga Baker, 56, who worked 19 years as caregiver for people with disabilities, was terminated after a state inspector general report concluded that she and two other employees failed to comply with an Illinois law requiring that they report suspected abuse, according to last week's ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in Marga Baker v. Macon Resources Inc.
The report said Ms. Baker and a 61-year old employee saw another worker “neck-flicking” a resident, which was physical abuse, while 39-year old employee, Angelia Cross, had “direct evidence” and “suspected” that this same employee had sexually abused the resident. The report recommended that Macon Resources address the failure of all three to comply with the law.
The two older employees were terminated, while Ms. Cross was given only a three-day suspension by the Decatur, Ill.-based group home.
Ms. Baker sued Macon Resources, accusing it of age discrimination because of its uneven treatment of the three employees. The U.S. District Court in Urbana, Ill., granted summary judgment dismissing the case, saying the two dismissed employees were not “similarly situated” because the younger employee neglected to report only “suspicions” of abuse, while Ms. Baker was fired for failing to report abuse she witnessed.
In its unanimous ruling, a three-judge appeals court disagreed. “Baker has supplied adequate evidence that Cross is a comparable worker who engaged in similar misconduct yet received lighter treatment,” the court ruled in reinstating the age discrimination suit.
Macon Resources’ “reporting policy draws no distinction in imposing duty to report among those who ‘witness’ abuse, those are ‘told of’ it and those who have ‘reason to believe’; it occurred,” the court ruled.
“We conclude that the selective enforcement of Macon Resources’ reporting policy, combined with the inconsistencies in distinguishing Baker from Cross, can support pretext,” the appeals court ruled in remanding the case for further proceedings.