Court of Appeal Reverses Summary Judgment in Age and Disability Case

Sandell, formerly Taylor guitars' vice president of sales, suffered a stroke. As a result, he walked with a cane and spoke slower than had previously had. Taylor ultimately fired him, claiming he did not motivate the sales staff and because sales were anemic under Sandell's leadership.

The court of appeal reversed the trial court's summary judgment. On the disability discrimination claim, the court noted that Sandell did not claim Taylor failed to accommodate him. Sandell said he could do his job without accommodation. Rather, this was a straight disparate treatment case - "they fired me because I had a disability."

Finding a factual dispute on whether Taylor's reasons for discharge were pretextual, the court relied on performance appraisals that were rosier than Taylor's characterization of Sandell's performance during litigation. So... stop me if you've heard this ... overly nice performance appraisals will come back to bite you.

Another interesting part of the opinion addressed Sandell's subordinates declarations confirming Sandell's lack of leadership skills. The court said that the employees had failed to complain during Sandell's employment, so a reasonable jury could infer the opinions had changed (for litigation?!). That's a very generous inference for the court to make, IMO.
Finally, the court was troubled by some he-said /he-said discriminatory comments, which the court believed was enough additional evidence of discrimination to send the case to the jury. The court rejected the "same actor" claim that the CEO hired and fired Sandell within five years. The court said that the CEO's perception of Sandell as "old" could have changed within that period of time, particularly because of Sandell's physical changes.

The opinion is Sandell v. Taylor-Listug, Inc. and the opinion is here