(CN) – A CBS affiliate in San Francisco did not discriminate when it laid off two middle-aged news reporters, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
William Schechner and John Lobertini, former reporters at KPIX-TV, failed to show that they were singled out because of their ages during a round of cost-cutting layoffs in 2008, according to the federal appeals court.
Schechner was 66 years old at the time, and Lobertini was 47.
The pair submitted statistics that showed older employees had suffered the most during the CBS-ordered budget cutting, but a federal judge disagreed in April 2011.
Presiding Senior U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel in San Francisco ruled that the statistical analysis failed to show “a stark pattern of discrimination.”
A three-judge appellate affirmed, but for different reasons, noting that Patel had demanded too much of the plaintiff’s statistical evidence.
“A plaintiff who relies on statistical evidence to establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment bears a relatively low burden of proof,” Judge Betty Fletcher wrote for the court.
But since both Schechner and Lobertini had been offered contract renewals not long before the layoffs, they could not show discrimination, the panel found.
Schechner signed a two-year contract in 2004, when he was 64 years old. Lobertini signed a similar two-year contract when he was 46, less two years before losing his job.
“We hold that a plaintiff’s statistical evidence need not account for the employer’s nondiscriminatory reason for the discharge in order to show a stark pattern of discrimination,” Fletcher wrote. “Although Schechner and Lobertini established a prima facie case of discrimination, they did not present sufficient evidence of pretext to survive summary judgment.”