Police Chief’s “Young Turks” Comment Can Support Age Discrimination Lawsuit

Dann McInnis is a police officer with the Town of Weston, Connecticut. McInnis participated in a promotional process for the position of sergeant in 2002. The promotional exam consisted of a written and an oral portion, each of which counted for half the total score.

McInnis had the second highest written score of 83, behind two officers, each of whom were over the age of 40 and scored 85. Another officer by the name of Daubert, who was 36 years old and had only seven years of experience to the 18 years of experience held by McInnis, scored 79 on the examination.

On the oral portion of the test, Daubert scored 96.33, compared to McInnis’ score of 71.48. The four other officers who took the oral exam, all of whom were over 40, scored between 71 and 77 on the oral test.

As a result, Daubert had the highest combined score on the examination. McInnis sued the City, alleging that the Police Chief, Anthony Land, manipulated the oral examination to promote Daubert because of Daubert’s age. A federal court recently refused to dismiss the lawsuit.

The Court noted that McInnis submitted evidence that Land had referred to some members of the Police Department as “dinosaurs” and as “the old guys.” He was also reported to have said “the one way to have good morale in the Department would be to get rid of the old guys and hire young ones,” and that Land had referred to the group of younger officers as “young Turks.”

The Court found that such statements could support an age discrimination lawsuit. The Court held that the following factors are relevant in determining which comments evidence an intent to discriminate or whether they were merely “stray remarks”: (1) Who made the remark, i.e., a decision maker, a supervisor, or a low-level co-worker; (2) whether the remark was made in relation to the employment decision at issue; (3) the content of the remark; and (4) the context in which the remark was made.

The Court determined that since Land had considerable influence over the decision-making process, coordinated the substance and procedure for the oral exam, and advised the City’s Police Commission on the promotional decision, his comments could support a finding of age discrimination: “As Police Chief, a causal nexus can be inferred between Land’s alleged comments and the results of the promotional process. While a reasonable factfinder could credit either interpretation, McInnis has presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that Land’s comments were not merely stray remarks but indicative that discrimination at least in part motivated Land’s actions.”

As a result of this decision, the Court set the matter for trial.

McInnis v. Town of Weston, 2005 WL 1522044 (D.Conn. 2005).

This article appears in the August 2005 issue