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Employee may claim age bias for being `too young'.

An account executive who was fired allegedly because her "voice sounded too young" can file an age discrimination suit against her employer, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled. (Zanni v. Medaphis Physician Services Corp., No. 206245, 2000 WL 381503 (Mich. Ct. App. Apr. 11, 2000).)

Plaintiff Kimberly Zanni worked for Medaphis Physician Services Corp. for 11 years. According to court documents, Medaphis terminated Zanni's employment in 1996 because she lost two accounts and had "violated her employment plan." A less qualified, older female replaced Zanni within days of her termination.

In her suit, Zanni claimed that shortly before Medaphis fired her, a supervisor told her that her "voice sounded too young on the phone and that the clients wanted an older account executive."

Zanni, who was 31 years old when she filed the complaint, alleged that older account representatives who previously lost two or more accounts were not fired and that she was treated differently from older employees because of her age rather than the quality of her work. Zanni alleged that the company's discriminating against her because she was too young violated Michigan's Civil Rights Act.

The trial court granted Medaphis's motion for summary judgment, agreeing that a claim of age discrimination because of youth does not exist under Michigan's age discrimination statute.

The appellate court reversed. Writing for a seven-judge panel, Judge Mark Cavanagh found that the law "provides that an employer shall not discriminate `against an individual with respect to employment, compensation, or a term, condition, or privilege of employment, because of ... age.' The [act] defines `age' as `chronological age except as otherwise provided by law.'... We conclude that the plain language of the statute provides no basis to limit the protections of [the act] to older workers."

The court held that a Michigan appeals court panel erred in 1994 when it relied on case law construing the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which limits prohibitions against age discrimination to employees who are at least 40 years old, to decide a similar case. "We decline to read a similar restriction into the [Civil Rights Act] when the legislature apparently chose not to do so," Cavanagh wrote.

He continued, "While it is perhaps less common for younger employees to be judged on the basis of inaccurate stereotypes about their abilities, the potential nevertheless exists. Just as an older worker may be inaccurately perceived as less energetic and resistant to new ideas, a younger worker may be unfairly viewed as immature and unreliable, without regard for her individual merits."

Dwight Teachworth, an attorney in Bingham Farms, Michigan, represented the plaintiff. He said the outcome of the case demonstrates that "age discrimination is just as egregious for young people as it is for older people."
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Author:Reichert, Jennifer L.
Publication:Trial
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Words:458
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