Age discrimination lawsuit fueled by promise in termination letter

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

Effort to soften termination backfires

There are proven ways to “soften the blow” when you terminate an employee who might sue: generous severance, outplacement or continued benefits, for example.

But it’s a bad idea to make promises you can’t keep if an employee lawyers up. Here’s a case where a promise of future consulting work backfired.

Fired after 20 years

Thomas Flannery worked for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

At age 63, after 20 years of service, he was fired. In his termination letter the employer promised future part-time consulting work. Flannery filed a lawsuit alleging age discrimination.

After he filed suit for age discrimination, he never heard from the employer about consulting opportunities. So he added a new charge to his claim: retaliation.

The RIAA argued that the retaliation claim was inadmissible because the Age Discrimination in Employment Act doesn’t cover independent contractors. But the judge disagreed.

Flannery won both claims: The RIAA couldn’t show that age discrimination wasn’t a key factor in the decision to fire Flannery.

And by withholding the promised consulting work, it denied him career opportunities in retaliation for his age discrimination complaint.

Cite: Flannery v. Recording Industry Association of America, U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit, No. 03-1591, 1/6/04.

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