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We never thought we'd see the day when a First Circuit Court of Appeals opinion would yield discussions of Bozo and an age discrimination suit, but, surprisingly, that day has come.
International Shipping Corporation (Intership) fired Genaro Bonefont-Igaravidez in 2007, (after 57 years on the job), for attacking his boss, also known as a "Bozo."
Bonefont said the alleged attack was just a pretext, and filed an age discrimination suit against Intership. The First Circuit Court of Appeals, last week, found that Bonefont did not have enough evidence to prove to a reasonable fact finder that he was wrongfully terminated.
Intership loads and unloads cargo ships in Puerto Rico. The bulk of its work force is comprised of stevedores, who are assembled into fixed groups referred to as "gangs." Each gang is supervised directly by a foreman, who in turn reports to a "Bozo." Bonefont worked for Intership primarily as a stevedore.
Between late 2006 and early 2007, Bonefont missed several months of work due to various physical ailments, during which time he received disability benefits. Upon his return to active employment in April 2007, some of Bonefont's stevedore colleagues allegedly leveled insults related to his age and medical conditions, often in the presence of supervisors.
What kinds of insults, you wonder? They called Bonefont an old, sick man; asked him why he had not retired; told him that he was too old to perform his job duties; and urged him to stay home to watch soap operas and care for his grandchildren. You know, standard dock talk.
In April 2007, Intership Director of Human Resources Karen Figueroa was informed that Bonefont had purportedly assaulted his Bozo, Raúl Pérez Valentín (Pérez), during his shift earlier in the day. Pérez himself was over 60. Figueroa immediately suspended Bonefont, and shortly thereafter decided to terminate his employment.
Bonefont, 71 at the time he was fired, sued Intership, alleging a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). He claimed that he was terminated because his seniority entitled him to higher pay than other stevedores and because Figueroa and others believed him too old to do his job. Intership contested the claim, and won summary judgment in the district court.
To prevail in his age discrimination suit, Bonefont had to demonstrate that he that: (1) he was at least 40 years old at the time of the termination; (2) he was qualified for the position that he had held; (3) he was fired; and (4) his employer subsequently demonstrated a continuing need for those services. Since he clearly met all four criteria, the burden shifted to Intership to show a "legitimate, non-discriminatory" motive for firing Bonefont.
No surprise, Bonefont's Bozo assault qualified as a valid motive for termination. Furthermore, since Bonefont couldn't demonstrate that the Bozo assault was a pretext, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of Intership.
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