EEOC Roundup (December 2013): Age Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The Act forbids treating job applicants and employees less favorably because they are age 40 or older. Consequently, employers must not make decisions regarding hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits or any other term or condition of employment based on an individual's age.

Age discrimination is getting more expensive for noncompliant employers. The annual monetary benefits the EEOC obtained — not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation — increased from approximately $44.3 million in fiscal year 1997 to $91.6 million in fiscal year 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available.

Here are some cases the EEOC filed or settled during December 2013:

EEOC Files Class Action against Restaurant Chain

The EEOC filed a class action lawsuit against Ruby Tuesday, Inc., alleging it engaged in a pattern or practice of age discrimination against job applicants over 40 years of age at six of its restaurants. The restaurant chain also failed to preserve employment records the law required it to preserve, including employment applications, the EEOC alleged.

To settle the charges, Ruby Tuesday agreed to pay $575,000, provide extensive training and take administrative and compliance measures aimed at preventing age discrimination.

Milling Company Refused to Hire Qualified Applicant

A Bay State Milling Company manager told job applicant Gary Legore that the company wished to hire a younger individual for the position, according to the EEOC. To settle the EEOC action, Bay State Milling agreed to $80,185 in back pay and liquidated damages and to provide mandatory employee training. The settlement also includes reporting requirements that subject the company to EEOC monitoring for two years.

Hawaiian Police Officer Candidate Denied Position Due to Age

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, when 45-year-old Lars Sandstrom applied for the position of police officer with the County of Maui in 2009, he met and exceeded the minimum qualifications for the position and passed the qualifying written exam. However, during the interview process, the department made assumptions about his abilities — e.g., his ability to handle stress — that were based on his age. The department passed him over for the position and an EEOC investigation subsequently determined the department hired several other less-qualified candidates as officers during the time in question.

The EEOC contends such stereotyping negatively impacts a person's ability to find employment and violates the ADEA. Its lawsuit seeks back pay, benefits and liquidated damages for Sandstrom, as well as injunctive relief to prevent further discrimination at the department.

Bank Fired Branch Manager Because of Her Age and Disability

The EEOC charged Regions Financial Corporation, doing business as Regions Bank, with violations of the ADEA and the Americans with Disabilities Act after it refused to provide a reasonable accommodation for a former employee's disability and then discharged her because of her age.

According to the lawsuit, Regions denied a 61-year old branch manager's request for a reasonable accommodation — a demotion to a less stressful and demanding position — for a physical disability and eventually fired her.

To settle the case, Regions agreed to pay the former manager $95,000, provide age- and disability-discrimination training and implement additional compliance measures to prevent future violations.

The EEOC has become increasingly aggressive in its enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. Employers can avoid costly investigations, litigation and negative publicity by training employees on the law.