Got an age discrimination claim? It’s not that hard to plead one in court.


A plaintiff claiming age discrimination at work must ultimately prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that age was the ‘but-for’ cause of whatever adverse employment action the plaintiff claims to have suffered.

However, a recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision reminds us that merely pleading allegations of age discrimination is easy, like Sunday morning

The plaintiff alleged she served as the Senior Vice President of Human Resources in her mid-60s. A well-credentialed, seasoned HR professional with decades of experience, the plaintiff claimed that she performed well, accomplished many goals, received uniform praise from senior management, and earned a sizeable discretionary bonus.

However, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s president fired her seven days after lauding her work, explaining only that she was not a “cultural fit,” and later replaced her with someone 30 years younger and less experienced. So, she sued the defendant for age discrimination.

The defendant moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the plaintiff had failed to state a claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act on which relief could be based. The district court agreed, holding that the plaintiff “fail[ed] to show a causal connection between her age … and her termination” and instead “assert[ed] mere conclusions and formulaic recitations.”

“Indeed,” the district court continued, the plaintiff had failed to show “that her age played any role in Defendant’s decision to terminate her employment — let alone [that it was the] but-for cause” of her termination.

So, the plaintiff appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Unlike the lower court, the appellate court concluded that the plaintiff had alleged enough facts in her complaint to support an inference that the defendant terminated her because of her age.


The plaintiff’s complaint included facts about her (1) age, (2) qualifications, (3) strong work performance, (4) the suspicious timing and circumstances of her abrupt termination, (5) the vague justification for her discharge, and (6) much younger replacement. Also, she alleged that, following her termination, the company let go of other employees “near or over 60 years of age.”

Taken together and accepted as true, the plaintiff’s allegations “plausibly allow for the reasonable inference” that her age motivated the defendant’s employment decision, giving the defendant “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Allegations in a complaint that “nudge[] [a plaintiff’s] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible” comport with the notice-pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Of course, the plaintiff still must prove it. But, she still may get her day in court.

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