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What TV anchor’s age bias suit could mean for employers



We are about to witness a very public age discrimination lawsuit in Canada that will also reverberate through the United States.

Lisa LaFlamme is one of Canada’s most respected television news personalities in history. She occupied the chief news anchor chair at CTV, a national network owned by media oligarch, Bell Media, after 35 years of service with the company.

While Bell Media has stated that LaFlamme’s exit was simply a business decision, there seems to be overwhelming evidence that it was based on her age, choosing to allow her own hair to go gray and other closely related issues.

Bell Media’s idea is that LaFlamme’s firing is something that they will simply be able to endure, a blip in the road that will move people to words but not to action. They’re decidedly wrong, as LaFlamme will attempt to prove in court. While a lawsuit has yet to be made public, the announcement could come as early as this week.

Running the facts of the LaFlamme case as we understand them gives us a textbook age discrimination case. The conceptual framework of age discrimination law is very similar between Canada and the United States. In the U.S., an employee could have a prima facie (“on its face”) age discrimination case if:

The person falls under the protected age class:

LaFlamme, age 58, clearly falls under the protected age class. In the U.S., under the ADEA, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the protected class is those age 40 and above.

They had satisfactory job performance:

LaFlamme’s job performance was not only satisfactory but she has also been regarded for years as one of Canada’s top TV anchors if not the absolute best. Be aware that in defending a lawsuit, Bell Media will do all they can do to poke holes in this record of performance.

Some kind of adverse job action was taken against them:

This one is easy here — LaFlamme was terminated, which meets this necessary prong of the test.

Younger, similarly situated employees received favorable/preferential treatment:

This is where age discrimination cases are often made or broken. In the U.S., the ADEA permits employers to actually favor older employees based on age even when doing so adversely affects a younger worker who is 40 or older. But what the law and a judge more than likely won’t look kindly upon is a situation where the nexus between age and gender discrimination is obvious.

Here, LaFlamme’s termination is from a major national TV network with a lot of history. While the U.S. has had many revered grand old anchors, so have our neighbors to the north. Canada’s two most famous (male) TV news anchors, Peter Mansbridge and Lloyd Robertson, were allowed to retire at age 69 and 77 respectively.

Essentially, what a plaintiff in a prima facie age dsicrimination case is trying to do is to hurdle a high bar — provide direct evidence of discriminatory intent. This is very difficult to achieve in most cases, but LaFlamme might have it here. As Canada’s national paper — The Globe and Mail — reported, a CTV News senior leader, Michael Melling, had previously asked who had approved the decision to allow LaFlamme’s hair to go gray. It was indeed Melling who terminated LaFlamme’s contract.

Karen Schulman Dupuis is the director of strategic impact and planning at the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce. Schulman Dupuis is convinced that, as so often happens in these cases, it takes one big case to give many other potential litigants the opportunity and courage to come forward. As to the LaFlamme case, things appear clear-cut:

“Gendered ageism is the intersection of sexism and ageism that starts for women at age 40 in the workplace. It disrupts women’s careers and personal lives with often devastating impacts. What LaFlamme has experienced is not uncommon, and she’s probably the most public figure whose story resonates with a vast swath of Canadian women who are over 50.”

No matter where this goes from here, it won’t stop age and gender discrimination in the United States, Canada or anywhere in the world. But what these cases can do is provide yet additional layers for intelligent employers to build a humane structure for how they deal with employees. And, as always, cases such as LaFlamme’s put bad corporate actors under the spotlight they deserve to have shined upon them.


Aron Solomon, J.D., is the chief legal analyst for Esquire Digital and 24-7 Abogados.



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