1. Why did his employer tell Rhodes that he was

1. Why did his employer tell Rhodes that he was being terminated because of a RIF, and why did the supervisor Snyder place a memo in Rhodes’s file about lacking expertise in downhole operations?

2. Evaluate the statement attributed to Jack Givens, the person who directed that Rhodes be fired, that “I could hire two young salesmen for what some of the older salesmen are costing.”

3. Was the jury “entitled” to find that the reasons given by the employer for Rhodes’s discharge were merely pretexts for age discrimination?


Calvin Rhodes began his employment with Dresser Industries in 1955 as an oil industry salesman. In the throes of a severe economic downturn, Rhodes took a job selling oil field equipment at another Dresser company that became Guiberson Oil Tools. After seven months, he was discharged and told the reason was a reduction in force (RIF) but that he would be eligible for rehiring. At that time, he was 56 years old. Within two months, Guiberson hired a 42-year-old salesperson to do the same job. Rhodes sued Guiberson for violating the ADEA. A jury found for plaintiff Rhodes, but a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rendered judgment for the employer. The matter was reheard en banc before the Court of Appeals.

JUDICIAL OPINION

DAVIS, C. J.… Lee Snyder terminated Rhodes on October 31, 1986. Mr. Snyder told Rhodes he was part of a reduction in force (RIF) because of adverse economic conditions that persisted in the oil field. Snyder told Rhodes, however, that Guiberson would consider him for reemployment. Rhodes’ personnel file reflected this same reason for the discharge. It was uncontradicted that Rhodes’ position remained unfilled for only 6 weeks and that Guiberson knew at the time of termination or soon after that Rhodes would be replaced.…

Lee Snyder, Rhodes’ supervisor, testified via deposition that more than one salesman was clearly needed for the territory. Jack Givens, who had been Snyder’s supervisor, testified that he told Snyder to replace Rhodes. Givens also testified that the business required more than one salesman, and that Rick Attaway had been hired to replace Rhodes. James Sewell, Snyder’s other supervisor, testified that Rhodes was told that his position was being eliminated and that this statement was not true. The evidence supports a finding that Guiberson did not tell Rhodes the truth about why it was discharging him.

Guiberson Oil’s defense at trial was not that Rhodes was RIF’d, but that he was discharged because of his poor work performance. Here, too, Rhodes presented evidence to counter Guiberson’s assertion.…

Guiberson officials’ testimony…provided support for Rhodes’ contention that Guiberson’s “productivity” justification of his termination was a pretext for age discrimination. Lee Snyder testified that the memo placed in Rhodes’ file explaining that Rhodes lacked technical expertise in downhole operations was substantially true but noted that it was also a “CYA… (cover your _ss)” letter. Snyder testified that Rhodes was a good salesman with strong customer contacts and noted that Jack Givens—Snyder’s boss who instructed Snyder to fire Rhodes—once said that he could hire two young salesmen for what some of the older salesmen were costing. Snyder quickly backed away from this statement and said that Givens had said he could hire two new salesmen for what some of the others were costing him. Givens said he was not aware of telling Snyder this. He also admitted that he had never talked to any of Rhodes’ customers about Rhodes’ performance as a salesman.

James Sewell, Snyder’s other supervisor, testified that he had been very impressed with Rhodes’ sales plans and that technical ability was not necessary to sell the product. He also testified that Rhodes had a poor customer base, but admitted that he did not know who Rhodes’ customers were, had not talked to any of Rhodes’ customers, and had no documentation to support his testimony about Rhodes’ poor performance.

Lloyd Allen, the other salesman in the New Orleans office with whom Rhodes was compared, at first testified that his sales were much higher than Rhodes’ but clarified on cross-examination that Rhodes’ sales during the period in question nearly matched his own. Allen also admitted that the records supporting his testimony may have been incomplete, that Rhodes may have made another sale for which Allen had not credited him, and that another salesman may have been responsible for one of the sales Allen credited to himself.… ……………………..

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