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Curriculum Director's Age-Bias Suit Revived

A federal appeals court has reinstated an age-discrimination lawsuit filed by a school district administrator who was demoted amid questions from her superiors about when she was going to retire.

Judy F. Jones was the 59-year-old executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Oklahoma City school district in 2007 when she was demoted to elementary school principal, according to court papers. During the 2006-07 school year, two executive directors and the interim superintendent asked her about her retirement plans, her lawsuit says.

When John Porter became the new Oklahoma City superintendent in 2007, he eliminated Jones' position and had her reassigned as a principal, which eventually resulted in her $98,000 annual salary being reduced by $17,000. One month after the reassignment, Porter created the position of executive director of teaching and learning, with duties similar to those of Jones' former job, and a 47-year-old educator was given the position, court papers say.

The district claimed in court papers that the superintendent had decided to create a new deputy superintendent's position in a revenue-neutral manner, and that Jones' curriculum post was eliminated to fund the new position.

Jones sued under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. A federal district court judge granted summary judgment to the school district, ruling that despite the fact that Jones presented a prima facie case of age bias and evidence that the district's proffered reasons for the demotion were pretextual, her case fell into a narrow range in which no juror could reasonably conclude that the district had committed age discrimination.

In an Aug. 24 decision in Jones v. Oklahoma City Public Schools, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, reversed the district court.

The appeals court said the district judge was wrong to require Jones, at the summary judgment stage, to present additional evidence of age bias beyond her facial case and her evidence of pretext.

"Jones presented evidence that a new position, executive director of teaching and learning, was created shortly after her transfer," the appeals court said. "This position's job responsibilities were strikingly similar to those of Jones' former position as executive director of curriculum and instruction. Although [the school district] argues that the new
position entailed more responsibility, it also admits that the position reabsorbed many of
the same duties of Jones' former position and was filled by someone 13 years Jones' junior."

The 10th Circuit's ruling allows Jones's case to potentially go to trial.

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