California Labor and Employment Defense Blog

Discriminatory "Stray Remarks" May Defeat Summary Judgment -- Reid v. Google

In age discrimination cases, plaintiffs frequently support their claims with evidence of comments by managers such as "you can't teach an old dog new tricks,"  that the company needs "young blood," or referring to some employees as "old timers."  When comments like these are made by those who not involved in the termination decision, or in a context unrelated to the decision, courts have tended to brand them as mere "stray remarks" which are not evidence of discrimination.

In Reid v. Google, Inc., the California Supreme Court held that such "stray remarks" cannot be "categorically" dismissed from consideration, however.   Instead, the Court explained that while such remarks may not be persuasive by themselves, they can tip the scale when combined with other evidence.  Thus when deciding whether to grant or deny summary judgment Courts must analyze the "totality of circumstances." 

In reality, this may not be much of a change in the law as courts were always really applying the "stray remarks" doctrine on a case-by-case, fact-specific basis anyway.  But the lesson for employers is to make all reasonable efforts expunge "politically incorrect" references from official communications.                 

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