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In a discrimination case, simply proving that the employer’s stated reason for denying a promotion to an older worker is not believable is not enough to win if the decision maker testifies credibly that age had “nothing to do with” the decision, a federal judge has ruled. Announcing his verdict after a nonjury trial in Robinson v. Henderson, Senior U.S. District Judge Edmund V. Ludwig of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found that plaintiff Fannie Robinson had “arguably succeeded in discrediting the reason given” by the Postal Service when she was denied a promotion to a post in its human resources department. Robinson’s boss had testified that he chose a younger candidate for the job because he had expressed himself more clearly in the interview, while Robinson had poor communication skills. Ludwig rejected that explanation, finding that the assessment “was not corroborated by other evidence.” But Ludwig found that winning that battle was only half the war since plaintiffs in discrimination cases must “convince the fact-finder both that the reason was false and that discrimination was the real reason.” Ludwig found that Robinson failed to meet her ultimate burden because “the record is devoid of any evidence of discriminatory intent.” Instead, Ludwig found, “the credible testimony was that age played no role in the decision making process.” Robinson, who was represented by attorney Andrew S. Abramson, has worked for the Postal Service for 29 years and is 64 years old. For 17 years, she processed mail, but beginning in 1991, she worked in the injury compensation unit, making up folders and answering the phone. She later moved to the customer service department. In 1998, Robinson and three younger employees applied for a position as a human resource specialist. Robinson claims she was the best candidate for the job since she had already worked a four-month stint in the position several years before, and since she had the most seniority. But after supervisor Joseph DiDio interviewed each of the four candidates for 15 minutes, he opted to hire 38-year-old Joseph Tarczewski. DiDio later testified that Tarczewski had expressed himself more clearly in the interview and that precision in communication was a critical qualification for the job since it involved describing administrative processes to injured claimants. In his 14-page decision, Judge Ludwig found that Robinson had proven that DiDio’s reasons weren’t the true reasons, noting that communication skills were never discussed during Robinson’s interview. But Ludwig found that DiDio was credible on the most important point — whether the ages of the candidates factored into his decision. “Without more, the significant age difference between Tarczewski and plaintiff cannot satisfy her burden,” Ludwig wrote. In a lengthy footnote, Ludwig quoted DiDio’s testimony in which the supervisor said that he was aware Robinson was significantly older than Tarczewski, but that he never thought about their ages when making his decision. DiDio was asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Britt to tell the judge “what part Miss Robinson’s age played in your decision not to select her in 1998.” His six-word answer won the case: “Age doesn’t enter into my selection.”

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