Garbage Man’s Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Recycled by 9th Circuit

A former Manhattan Beach sanitation worker seeking legal recourse for age discrimination and wrongful termination will get his day in court after a federal appeals panel ruled that he could proceed. Gilberto Santillan filed the age discrimination lawsuit against a waste disposal company, USA Waste of California, subsidiary of Waste Management Inc., the franchise waste hauler for all residents and businesses in the city.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals voted unanimously to allow Santillan to proceed with the two wrongful termination claims. Santillan alleges that he was discriminated against due to his age and then retaliated against for seeking legal counsel. District Court ruled in favor of the waste company, ruling Santillan’s claims could not proceed. The new ruling undermines the district court’s ruling and allows Santillan to proceed – potentially in front of a jury.

Santillan wasn’t just any “garbage man” He was what many might describe as a landmark of Manhattan Beach. He worked the route in the city for 32 years and many of the local residents have actively reached out to support his claims. Santillan’s legal representation pointed towards this strong local backing as being reflected in the Ninth Circuit’s opinion. The court opinion actually referenced various letters of support from local residents indicating that they were taken very seriously.

Santillan started working for USA Waste in 1979, and handled the Manhattan Beach route for his entire time with the company. In March 2011, the city was considering whether they should renew their agreement with Waste Management or contract another hauler. Santillan’s personal service and record with the company and the city became a key theme in the campaign in support of retaining Waste Management’s services.

For 30 years with the company, Santillan was rarely disciplined, but in 2009 a new route manager for Manhattan Beach took over and Santillan ran into problems. Fro 2009 to 2011, the new manager attempted to discipline Santillan six times. Santillan was fired in December 2011. The company claims they fired Santillan because he was involved in multiple accidents in 2011, three of which were self-reported. The resident living at the damaged property at the time of the firing stated in an interview that the firing was an over-reaction. She continued by praising Santillan’s driving skills, as the street was narrow and touch to navigate.

The Ninth Circuit overruled the trial judge’s holding that Santillan’s case lacked the qualifications needed for an age discrimination claim, noting that Santillan, who speaks very little English, was one of two or more older, Spanish-speaking employees that were terminated when the new supervisor took over the Manhattan Beach route. Santillan’s replacement was estimated to be 13 years younger with 20 less years of experience on the job.

Extensive discovery will be needed prior to the start of trial.

If you feel you have been wrongfully terminated, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.