By Michael C. Fallings
Former NBA superstar and current business mogul, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, faces allegations of age discrimination and wrongful termination by his former employee, Lanita Thomas. Thomas, who worked almost eight years for Johnson as his personal flight attendant on his private jet, states that Johnson fired her after she was “15 minutes late” to a flight. The forty-five-year-old Thomas claims that Johnson’s actual motivation for firing her was his need to have a younger flight attendant. Thomas supports her claim by explaining that Johnson replaced her with a “substantially younger” flight attendant when she took medical leave in 2010. She claims to be “emotionally devastated” by the situation, and that because she was “falsely terminated for her conduct” she will be unable to find work again as a flight attendant. More information found here.
Thomas’s claim of age discrimination is covered under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). To obtain relief under the ADEA, Thomas must establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. In particular, she must show that 1) she is within the age group protected under the ADEA; 2) she suffered an adverse employment action or disposition; 3) she was qualified for the position lost and 4) a person younger than the plaintiff was selected for the position over the plaintiff. Next, if Thomas establishes this prima facie case, Johnson then must show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for taking the adverse action. Lastly, if Johnson shows his reason for the firing was legitimate and nondiscriminatory then Thomas must prove that Johnson discriminated against her because of her age in violation of the ADEA.
Thomas should have a successful claim if she is able to prove that the real reason Johnson fired her was because of her age. Thomas can prove this by showing that Johnson fired other older employees in the past. Additionally, Thomas can show that other younger individuals were not fired for being late to work. Even if Thomas wins, however, do not expect a sweeping change in Johnson’s employment practice.