Age Discrimination Verdict In Favor Of Chiefs Sent Back For Retrial
The Missouri Supreme Court has thrown out an age discrimination verdict in favor of the Kansas City Chiefs and sent the case back for a new trial.
The high court ruled that the trial court was wrong to exclude the testimony of more than 15 witnesses called by the plaintiff, former Chiefs maintenance manager Steven Cox, who sued the NFL team after he was fired in October 2010.
Cox, 61 years old at the time, was replaced by a 37-year-old.
Cox alleged he was among numerous front-office employees over the age of 40 who were terminated or forced to retire and replaced by younger workers during the regime of General Manager Scott Pioli. The Chiefs contended Cox was fired in part because he had attempted to give an hourly employee a pay raise without authorization.
Before the case went to trial, Jackson County Circuit Judge James Kanatzer ruled that numerous former Chiefs employees would not be allowed to testify on Cox’s behalf. The testimony supposedly would have shown that the Chiefs forced out or fired a number of employees older than 40 and replaced them with younger employees.
Kanatzer also excluded evidence that Pioli had allegedly said, “I need to make major changes in this organization as so many employees … are over 40 years old.”
Kanatzar ruled that Pioli was not a decision maker and that the statement was a “stray remark.”
The case went to trial, and in February 2012 a jury ruled in favor of the Chiefs. Cox then appealed and the Missouri Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision today, ruled that Kanatzer abused his discretion in excluding the witnesses’ so-called “me too” testimony.
“The trial court erred in excluding evidence from these witnesses as to their ages, the circumstances of their firing or resignations, and the ages of those who replaced them based on its incorrect belief that they had to be directly fired by the same person and that they had to be as sufficiently similar to Mr. Cox …” the court stated in its decision.
Representatives of the Chiefs could not immediately be reached for comment. Dennis Egan, an attorney who represented Cox on appeal, said he was “gratified by the really thorough and scholarly opinion” of the court.
“What it means is that we get a new trial,” Egan said. “It’s not like we actually have won the trial, but at least we get a shot at it with all the relevant evidence.”
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR.