The Texas Supreme Court recently ruled that statements made by an employee not connected to another employee’s discharge did not comprise sufficient evidence to support an age discrimination claim. AutoZone, Inc. v. Reyes, __ S.W.3d __, No. 07-0773 (Tex. Dec. 5, 2008).
Salvador Reyes, an AutoZone employee, was accused of sexually harassing a co-worker in violation of the company’s sexual harassment policy. Based on the company’s investigation and Reyes’ admissions, AutoZone discharged Reyes for violating its policy. Reyes sued AutoZone for age discrimination and won. The appellate court affirmed, concluding that a manager’s statements regarding “old people” and evidence that younger employees who violated the policy were not disciplined similarly supported the jury verdict.
The Texas Supreme Court disagreed. First, for statements to constitute proof of discrimination, they must be: (1) related to the employee’s protected class; (2) close in time to the employment decision; (3) made by a person with authority over the decision; and (4) related to the decision. Because the speaker here was not involved in the disciplinary action, no evidence supported Reyes’ claim. Second, to prove discrimination based on disparate discipline, the underlying conduct must be “nearly identical.” Here, the situations Reyes presented involved fundamentally different conduct. And, although some evidence showed that not all employees were disciplined similarly, as a whole, the evidence did not support recovery on a disparate discipline theory.