“Fractioning” a Job May Still Result in Liability Under Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws
An employer cannot automatically escape liability under federal anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, by dividing up an employee’s duties among others, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
In order to assert a claim of discrimination under the ADEA or Title VII, an employee must show, among other things, that they were replaced by someone outside the protected class (e.g. a younger employee or one of a different race/sex/religion/etc.). In Spears v. Louisiana College, a professor was terminated and sued for age discrimination. The federal district court found that, because the professor’s courses had initially been spread out over other teachers, she had not been “replaced.” The Fifth Circuit disagreed, stating, “Employers may not circumvent Title VII protections by ‘fractioning’ an employee’s job,” and then extending that principle to the ADEA. Of additional significance, after initially dividing up the professor’s duties, the school subsequently hired a younger couple and that the professor’s teaching duties were ultimately performed by one and her faculty duties by the other.
This case provides an important lesson for employers that they may still face liability even if an employee is not technically “replaced” and their duties are divided among other employees. While in most job eliminations, the employee’s duties are legitimately redistributed, employers should not assume that this will automatically relieve them of any liability for discrimination – particularly if the position is eventually replaced, even in pieces, by others outside the protected class.