Age discrimination suits go sky high when you don't assess an employee's history

by on January 21, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Offhand comments cause employer to lose slam-dunk ADEA lawsuit win

Say you eliminate a manager’s job after she spent decades working for the firm. You don’t replace her and you can prove her job was cut for legitimate business reasons. But she files an age discrimination lawsuit anyway.

Sounds as though you’ve got a pretty good case, right? Read on.

‘Less creative and energetic’

Rosann Abrams worked as a manager at a law firm. After 39 years, her job was eliminated in a reduction in force.

Abrams filed an age discrimination lawsuit, claiming that her duties had been shifted to a 38-year-old employee. She argued that the reduction in force of her job was a pretext for wanting to get rid of an aging worker.

The firm presented a strong defense against age discrimination. It showed how Abrams’ responsibilities had decreased and her performance had diminished over the years.

True, some of her duties had gone to a younger individual, but he continued to perform his previous job as well. Abrams’ salary simply wasn’t cost-justified.

But the court – swayed by earlier comments from two supervisors – ruled in her favor. One had called her a “pretty fragile person.” Another referred to her as “less creative and energetic” than she was when she was younger.

Remember, people don’t sue for age discrimination because they were wronged. They sue because they’re angry. Before you fire someone in a protected class, do a thorough assessment of their performance evaluations and any statements managers may have made that could come back to haunt you in court.

Cite: Abrams v. Millikin & Fitton Law Firm, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio, Western Division, No. C-1-02-081, 5/21/03.

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