WEST PALM BEACH — A state appeals court kept an age discrimination case against Broward County Sheriff Scott J. Israel alive on the same day as the Parkland school shooting, which his department responded to.

On Feb. 14, Florida's 4th District Court of Appeal affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded a circuit court's previous decision to grant summary judgment in favor of Israel, who is being sued by a former department investigator. 

Broward County Sheriff Scott J. Israel
Broward County Sheriff Scott J. Israel

Former child protective investigator Elliot Yaro is suing Israel, in his official capacity, for disability and age discrimination following his demotion as a department child protective investigator, according to the three-page ruling.

"The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the sheriff on both claims," District Court Judge Martha C. Warner wrote the three-judge panel's ruling. "While we agree that summary judgment on [Yaro]'s disability discrimination claim was correct based upon the deposition testimony of [Yaro] which contradicted the allegations of his complaint, we reverse the summary judgment on appellant's age discrimination claim."

Warner was joined in the appeals court's unanimous ruling by Judge Carole Y. Taylor and Judge Dorian K. Damoorgian.

The appeals court handed down its ruling the same day as the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, during which 17 people were killed. Israel, former North Bay Village police chief who has been in law enforcement since he first became a Fort Lauderdale patrol officer in 1979, was first elected Broward County Sheriff in 2012 and was re-elected in 2016, according to an online biography.

Israel, Broward County's first Jewish sheriff, has over the past week been prominent in his department's response to the school shooting. He read the names of those slain the day following, has given media updates and was present when President Donald Trump visited with the department and made remarks a few days later.

Yaro is a former teacher and business owner who was a Broward County Sheriff's Department field investigator for 16 years and eight months, according to information on his LinkedIn page.

The 4th District's recent ruling was in Yaro's appeal of the 17th Judicial Circuit Court's summary judgment in his disability and age discrimination lawsuit in favor of Israel.

For Yaro to succeed in his age discrimination claim, he had to show he suffered "discriminatory treatment," the three-page ruling said. To do that Yaro, had to be a member of a protected class, at least 40 years old and otherwise qualified for the position he was in and prove he was discharged or demoted from that position and that the position was filled by someone person substantially younger, according to the ruling. "This may also be accomplished by showing direct evidence of discrimination such as a discriminatory statement by the decision-maker," the ruling said.

Had Yaro established such a prima facie case, "the burden of production" would then have shifted to Israel "to produce a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action," the ruling said.

If Israel was able to do that, then Yaro "must demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of material fact that the employer's nondiscriminatory reasons were pretextual," if he wanted his case to survive a motion for summary judgment, the ruling said.

"In short, the plaintiff must present evidence that the employer's nondiscriminatory reasons articulated were false and that the discrimination was the real reason for the defendant's actions," the ruling said. "If the record raises even the slightest doubt that an issue might exist, that doubt must be resolved against the moving party and summary judgment must be denied."

When he filed his case, Yaro was 62, qualified for his position, was discharged from his position and was replaced by "younger persons," the ruling said.

The Broward County Sheriff's Office claimed Yaro had been unfit for the job "based upon doctors examinations" but had also required Yaro "to attend four different examinations before one doctor concluded he was unfit as a precautionary measure," the ruling said. The Broward County Sheriff's Office also relied on Yaro's "poor work performance" but that "was never raised at the time of his demotion," the ruling said.

Yaro testified other older employees' positions in the department had been filled by younger replacements, according to the ruling.

"Because this evidence raised at least a slight doubt as to the reason for [Yaro]'s demotion, the [circuit] court erred in granting summary judgment on the age discrimination claim," the appeals court ruling said.

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