In Cheal v. El Camino Hospital, ___ Cal.App.4th ___  (Jan. 31, 2014), the California Court of Appeal (Sixth Appellate District) reversed the ruling of the Santa Clara County Superior Court (Judge Pierce) granting summary judgment on Plaintiff’s age discrimination claims.

Plaintiff, who worked as a “Diet Tech” for defendant employer for over 20 years, was terminated at 61 years old because it claimed that she was no longer competent to perform her duties.  Plaintiff then sued for age discrimination.  The court granted the defendant employer’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Plaintiff had not set forth any disputed triable issues of fact.  Plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court reversed, finding that there were numerous materially disputed facts.  Specifically, the court found that the record raised triable issues with respect to whether plaintiff was performing adequately at the time of her discharge and whether the discharge was the product of a belief to the contrary or of discriminatory animus against older workers on the part of plaintiff’s immediate supervisor.  Although it was undisputed that Plaintiff had made mistakes which affected her performance, it appeared that the hospital understood such mistakes were inevitable because of the nature of the work.  Also, there were sufficient doubts about the criticisms of Plaintiff’s work by her supervisor to support an inference of discriminatory animus. Finally, triable issues were created by a declaration of a witness submitted by Plaintiff which stated that Plaintiff’s supervisor favored younger employees.