Michigan Court Of Appeals Rules That Elliott-Larsen Act Protects Younger Workers

In Zanni v Medaphis Physician Services Corp a special conflict panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals decided that Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act ("ELCRA") prohibits age discrimination against younger employees and applicants.

In Zanni, the employer terminated a 31 year old account executive because she lost two accounts and had violated a performance plan. The employee claimed age discrimination, alleging a less qualified, older female replaced her; her supervisor had told her that her voice sounded too young on the phone and that clients wanted an older account executive. She also claimed that older account executives who had lost two or more accounts had not been discharged.

An earlier panel in Zanni had similarly opined that ELCRA protects younger employees, but had to dismiss the case because it was required to follow precedent established in Zoppi v Chrysler Corp. The Zoppi court held that ELCRA did not apply to claims of discrimination based on youth.

The special conflict panel overruled Zoppi, noting that ELCRA prohibits discrimination against an individual because of age. ELCRA defines "age" as "chronological age except as otherwise provided by law." The court concluded that ELCRA was not limited to protection of older workers.

The court observed that its ruling did not preclude discrimination against workers on the basis of job-related factors, such as experience and education, that are often correlated with age. This is consistent with cases such as Plieth v St. Raymond Church (1995) from the Michigan Court of Appeals and Hazen Paper Co v Biggins (1993) from the U.S. Supreme Court. Those cases determined that age-related factors, such as pension eligibility and seniority, do not constitute age discrimination.