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Worker fired over shrug gets age bias case reinstated


A federal appeals court has reinstated an age discrimination claim filed by a 20-year employee of a meat company who was immediately terminated after he only shrugged his shoulders in response to a routine question because his mouth was full of coffee.

Marcelino Salazar, 56, who had worked at a cattle feedlot in Lockney, Texas, operated by Wichita, Kansas-based Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. was summarily dismissed for insubordination after the incident, and then immediately replaced by a much younger employee, according to Thursday's ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in Marcelino Salazar v. Cargill Meat Solutions Corp.

Mr. Salazar had worked as a feeder-truck driver in Cargill's feed department without a single disciplinary incident, according to the ruling.

He was immediately terminated during a meeting in June, 2012, when his supervisor asked him whether he was having any problems with his vehicle and he shrugged his shoulders, although he said he had never been told of any rule or policy indicating employees could not answer questions nonverbally, according to the ruling. Mr. Salazar was replaced by a 19-year-old who had no experience operating a feeder truck, according to the ruling.

Mr. Salazar filed suit against the company, charging violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The federal District Court in Lubbock, Texas, granted Cargill summary judgment dismissing the case, concluding that although he had made out a prima facie case of age discrimination, he had failed to raise a genuine factual dispute as to whether his alleged insubordination was a mere pretext for discrimination.

A three-judge appeals court panel disagreed with the lower court. “Cargill's suggestion that Salazar's alleged insubordination on June 25, 2012, rendered him unqualified for the feeder-truck-driver position ignores the evidence to the contrary, such as Salazar's unblemished performance record,” said the ruling, in remanding the case for further proceedings.

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