Employment Law Update: The Fifth Circuit Discusses “Direct Evidence” Of Age Discrimination.

In a March 3, 2010 opinion–Jackson v. Cal-Western Packaging Corp.–the Fifth Circuit held that alleged discriminatory statements must be proximate in time to the employment decision to qualify as direct evidence of discrimination. The court gave the following summary of the relevant facts: “Jackson brought suit against Cal-Western for age discrimination. His claim primarily relied on a remark [his supervisor] allegedly made to another coworker in 2006 that Jackson was an “old, gray-haired fart” and that the coworker would be in charge when Jackson retired. Cal-Western moved for summary judgment. The district court ruled that Jackson had alleged a prima facie case of discrimination and that Cal-Western had offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing him, but that Jackson had failed to show that there was a fact issue as to whether Cal-Western’s reason for firing him was pretextual.” The Fifth Circuit went on to affirm the trial court’s decision. Specifically, it held that Jackson had not shown that the comment to the coworker was sufficiently proximate in time to the employment decision which occurred years later, and thus the comment could not qualify as direct evidence.