Management Mistakes and Age Discrimination

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

Age bias unintended

Does the “future value” of employees factor in when you make layoff decisions at your company?

If so, be careful. While it’s not against the law to consider an employee’s future worth to the organization when deciding whether or not to keep him, the practice may look a lot like age discrimination, as this case illustrates.

Durwood Currier was hired by Pratt & Whitney as an engineer in 1979 and was later promoted to business manager.

After he was laid off at age 61, Currier sued the company for age discrimination. In court, his supervisor admitted that age was a “key criterion” in determining an employee’s future value. The company made no bones about factoring age into its formula.

A jury awarded Currier $376,580 in lost wages, pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, you name it. And the jury didn’t even find that the employer had been “willful.” That would have resulted in additional penalties.

This case is a reminder that age discrimination isn’t always conscious on the part of the decision maker. HR should monitor for patterns in employment decisions that suggest age, racial, gender or other biases.

Cite: Currier v. Pratt & Whitney.


An executive who revealed suspicions about the ability of older workers ended up costing his casket company almost $400,000 in an age discrimination suit.

The company fired a 56-year-old worker who had worked there for three decades after forcing him to train his 33-year-old replacement.

When the worker earlier told the CEO he planned to work until he was 65, the executive said derisively, “We will see about that.”

This was one of many remarks he made about older workers that helped nail the case down.

Cite: EEOC v. Warfield-Rohr Casket Co.

Food company guilty of age bias

The world’s largest food manufacturer failed to promote a manager in his 40s. Suspecting that his age had something to do with it, he filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Nestle and won – big time.

The company’s written policy to eliminate so-called “deadwood” and “to promote young energetic people in management positions” was the kiss of death in court. While it’s not unlawful to include such wording in your company handbook, from a legal standpoint it’s not a good idea.

The manager, hired at age 41, received excellent ratings, but wasn’t promoted to any of the positions for which he applied. Those who got promotions were all between 28 and 35, were less experienced and in some cases didn’t even meet the qualifications posted in the job descriptions.

Nonetheless, the “young, energetic people” were promoted over the “deadwood” – and that practice cost the company a walloping $5.1 million verdict. Nestle may make the very best chocolate, but in this case it didn’t make the best business decisions.

Cite: Herr v. Nestle.

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