Arenas v. L’Oreal USA Products Inc., 2012 WL 453638 (3rd Cir. Feb. 14, 2012)

Facts:  Between October 1980 and March 2009 Ana Arenas was employed by L’Oreal, a cosmetics manufacturer. For most of those years she was a packaging operator. Essentially, her duties were to engage in quality checks, ensuring that the products conformed to product specifications. Her work was graded based on a point check system, accruing points for each oversight. The accumulation of eighteen points was grounds for termination. In November 2008, due to declining sales, L’Oreal offered a Voluntary Early Retirement Package (VERP). Ana refused the offer. Shortly after, she accrued eighteen violation points and was terminated. Prior to her refusal of the VERP she was well regarded by her supervisors and didn’t receive many violation points. Ana filed suit alleging that her termination was really due to her maturing age and that she was thus discriminated against.

Procedural Posture: Ana filed suit in a New Jersey State Court, L’Oreal removed to a Federal District Court. After a period of discovery, the District Court dismissed the action on summary judgment.

Issue: Was there sufficient evidence that L’Oreal was using the violation points as a pretext for discrimination, to require a jury and not be determined on a motion for summary judgment.

Holding:  No. There was insufficient evidence that L’Oreal was in fact discriminating and thus there was no issue of material fact to present to a jury.

Rationale: Under the NJLAD a test similar to the Mc’Donnel Douglas tri-part burden shifting test is used to determine if there is discrimination. First the plaintiff must make a prima facie showing of discrimination. Then the burden shifts to the defendant to offer a neutral explanation for the behavior. Finally, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the defendant’s explanation is mere pretext. Here, there is no evidence that L’Oreal’s termination of Ana for the accumulation of violation points was mere pretext. Rather the court stated that there was nothing in the record to cast doubt on the legitimate non-discriminatory reason for Ana’s termination. Thus there was no issue of fact to take to a jury and the District Court did not err in its dismissal of the case

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