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After Avon called and fired district sales manager Mary Shea Knight, she sued the company, alleging age discrimination. Although Avon argued that it fired Knight for selling competitor Mary Kay’s products, a jury found for Knight, who was 46 when Avon fired her, awarding $795,000 in damages. After remittitur, the trial court entered a $633,000 judgment. Avon appealed, arguing Knight failed to show she was replaced by a substantially younger person. Taking the appeal directly, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court agreed, set aside the verdict and ordered that judgment be entered for Avon. Knight v. Avon Products Inc., No. SJC-08776. When hired by Avon, Knight owned two stores that also sold cosmetics. She agreed to close one and have her daughter operate the other if Avon hired her. Once hired, Knight temporarily covered two territories. In one, she was replaced by a 24-year-old and, after her termination, by a 43-year-old in the other. On appeal, Avon argued, and the court agreed, that Knight was replaced by the 43-year-old, not the 24-year-old. Avon said Knight had no age discrimination claim because her replacement was not substantially younger. Knight countered that the law required only that the replacement be younger, not “substantially younger.” But, Massachusetts’ high court, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1996 decision in O’Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp., held that Knight had to have been replaced by a substantially younger person as part of the test to show age discrimination. Her replacement was just 28 months younger.

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