A large Wisconsin heating and plumbing contractor learned the hard way that it is not OK to have a policy of firing people simply because they turn 62. Or to retaliate when the employees contend (correctly) that this is illegal.
As an EEOC attorney put it, besides being illegal, this type of policy or practice “rupture[s] the band of loyalty” in the workplace. To make it worse, the employer publicized this policy to the workforce!
In an Age Discrimination in Employment Act lawsuit (“ADEA”), the EEOC alleged that the company had such a policy which it announced to its employees. When two long time employees pushing 62 “repeatedly warned” the company owner “that his plan to fire them when they turned 62 was illegal,” he fired one, and then, rather obtusely, retaliated against the other “by denying her a raise, suspending her without pay for two days and creating a hostile work environment while waiting for her to turn 62.”
This is no way to run a company, and the $140,000 settlement will likely make this company think twice in the future.
Employers should know the basics of the many anti-discrimination laws, or at least have qualified people providing advice about compliance. They should provide adequate training for both managers and employees (although in this case it was the owner who needed the training), and surely, at a minimum, seek counsel when informed that a proposed action is purportedly illegal.
Also, be advised that, as the EEOC said in its press release about this case, “retaliation complaints have been the fastest-increasing type of complaint filed with the EEOC over the past 15 years. Eliminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC’s investigative or enforcement efforts, is one of six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).”