(CN)- A former Nielsen-home recruiter can sue Nielsen Media Research for age discrimination and wrongful termination, the 9th Circuit ruled, finding that the 59-year-old showed evidence that the company treated younger employees more leniently when they broke the rules.
Christine Earl worked for Nielsen for a dozen years before the company, known for quantifying the nation’s television viewing habits by monitoring recruited families, fired her in 2007 for several minor policy infractions. The company subsequently hired five new recruiters in Earl’s California region, all of them in their 20s and early 30s, and paid them less than half of what they’d paid Earl, according to the ruling.
Earl sued Nielsen in federal court in Sacramento for age discrimination and wrongful termination, but Senior U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell ruled for the company. He found that Earl had failed to present evidence that her termination was the result of anything other than her own failure to follow company policy to the letter.
The federal appeals court in San Francisco roundly disagreed in a short ruling published Monday. The three-judge panel cited a number of examples in the record where the company gave younger employees numerous chances to get it right, while Nielsen seems to have been terminated for much less.
“We agree with the district court that Earl’s multiple violations of company policy could constitute a legitimate reason for terminating her employment,” wrote Judge William Fletcher for a unanimous three-judge panel. “However, Earl has provided specific and substantial evidence that significantly younger recruiters who repeatedly violated similar policies received more lenient treatment from the company. She has thereby raised a triable issue that Nielsen’s proffered reason was pretext for age discrimination.”
The judges reversed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to Nielsen on Earl’s age discrimination and wrongful termination claims, and remanded the case back for another look.