Promotion denial: age discrimination or discipline?

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

Age Discrimination in Promotion Decisions

“I’m qualified for this job,” Miles Broughton told HR manager Kerry Archibald. “Highly qualified. Why are you giving it to Angie Prouteau?”

“I don’t dispute that you’re qualified,” Kerry said. “However, your personnel file makes it impossible for me to consider you.”

“Why?” Miles challenged.

“I’ll assume that’s a rhetorical question, because you know the rule,” Kerry said.
“But I’ll repeat it anyway. Any employee who’s received coaching isn’t eligible for promotion until 12 months after the last coaching session. Your file shows that your manager had to coach you eight months ago.”

Covering up

“Ed Barnett isn’t willing to take responsibility for his own failings, so he laid them on me,” Miles said. “He failed to line up a replacement for me during my vacation, which is why my department got in such a mess. He had to coach me to cover his own behind.”

“I’m not going to discuss Ed’s managerial performance here,” Kerry said. “He has authority to give coaching when he considers it appropriate.”

“Oh, yeah?” Miles said. “Well, he also thought it appropriate to tell me I was too old, and I should hang it up like that All-Pro quarterback who just retired.”

“Miles, I really have no more to say on this subject,” Kerry said. “Come back if there’s anything else you want to discuss.”

Miles, who was 48, sued the company under Age Discrimination in Employment Act basing his case on the denied promotion.

Did he win?

Decision

Yes, Miles won his age discrimination suit. A federal jury ruled that the company violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and gave Miles several thousand dollars in damages.

The company said it refused to promote Miles based on a legitimate policy that applied across the board – any employee with recent coaching in his or her record couldn’t be promoted.

The court said the policy was fair at a glance, but if you dug deeper, could be used for discriminatory purposes. Coaching could be based merely on a supervisor’s subjective opinion, and in this case, the jury found, that’s exactly what happened.

Ed, the supervisor, had no factual justification for coaching Miles, and had shown he harbored an age-based prejudice.

We’re always reminding everyone to document, document, document. What this case shows is that the quality of your documentation matters.

If push comes to legal shove in an age discrimination case or any discrimination case, you should be able to show a good reason why discipline was applied, not just the fact that it was.

Cite: Cortez v. Wal-Mart Stores, No. 05-2169, 10th Cir., 8/25/06. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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