Prevent an ADEA lawsuit with clear communication to protected workers

by on December 15, 2008 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Plain-English explanations needed during reduction in force

You must consider appropriate positions for workers whose jobs are eliminated – provided they apply for them. Problem is, not everyone agrees on the meaning of “apply.”

She wanted to stay with firm

When Jeanne Smith learned her job would be eliminated she told her boss she’d accept any other position with the company – and even relocate.

Smith’s boss told her no positions were open. She suspected otherwise. After her layoff she filed an age discrimination lawsuit, claiming her employer hadn’t wanted her in any position because she was over age 40.

In court, Smith argued she had the skills and knowledge for several positions in the company.

The employer prevailed. It turns out, she hadn’t actually applied for a new job. Nor had she expressed interest in any specific position. In reaching its decision the court said, “A general interest in being rehired without submitting an application is not enough to establish a case of age discrimination.”

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 doesn’t require employers to create an interdepartmental transfer program during an RIF. It simply says discharged employees who apply for jobs they’re qualified for and that are available at the time of termination must be considered.

Even though the company won the case, it spent a lot of money defending itself in an age discrimination lawsuit that could have been avoided altogether.

Make sure workers in this situation get clear communication about how to apply for a new job with the firm.

Cite: Smith v. J. Smith Lanier & Co., U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, No. 03-12591, 12/12/03.

Leave a Reply


Request a Free Demo

We'd love to show you how this industry-leading training system can help you develop your team. Please fill out this quick form or give us a call at 877-792-2172 to schedule your one-on-one demo with a Rapid Learning Specialist.