Company Fired Employees When They Turned 62 and Punished One for Resisting, Federal Agency Charges
MADISON, Wis. - Stack Bros. Mechanical Contractors, Inc., of Superior, Wis., a major heating and plumbing contractor in northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota, violated federal law by firing two employees when they reached age 62 and by retaliating against one of those employees for resisting the company's plan to discriminate against her, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to Julianne Bowman, acting director of the EEOC's Chicago District, which includes Wisconsin, the agency's investigation revealed that Stack Bros. discriminated against Randy Virta and Karen Kolodzeske by firing them when they turned 62 in February and September 2014, respectively. Stack Bros. also retaliated against Kolodzeske for resisting its plans to fire her, the EEOC said.
Bowman said the EEOC found that both Virta and Kolodzeske repeatedly warned Stack Bros.' owner that his plan to fire them when they turned 62 was illegal, but the owner refused to relent and, after firing Virta, retaliated against Kolodzeske for her complaints, first by denying her a raise and then by demoting her and cutting her hours and pay while waiting for her to turn 62. Virta and Kolodzeske had worked for Stack Bros. for 16 and 25 years, respectively.
Stack Bros.' alleged conduct violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibits employers from taking adverse actions against employees and job applicants on the basis of age. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency seeks back pay, reinstatement, front pay and liquidated damages for Virta and Kolodzeske, an order barring future discrimination and retaliation, and other relief. The suit, captioned EEOC v. Stack Bros. Mechanical Contractors, Inc., (Civil Action No. 3:15-cv-00060), was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin in Madison and assigned to U.S. District Judge William M. Conley and Magistrate Judge Stephen L. Crocker.
"The conduct in this case was utterly unacceptable," Bowman said. "The experience, expertise and wisdom of older workers are essential to our nation's ability to compete in the global economy and the ability of those workers to continue to be employed without discrimination is critical to their economic well-being and quality of life. When age discrimination invades the workplace, everybody loses. "
EEOC Trial Attorney Dennis R. McBride, who will litigate the case on the agency's behalf, said, "If we looked the other way while Stack Bros. fired Mr. Virta and Ms. Kolodzeske merely for turning 62, it would signal that we're not serious about enforcing federal laws against age discrimination - and that is certainly not the case. The EEOC will continue to vigorously enforce the ADEA, and we'll continue to challenge employers who retaliate against workers who exercise their statutory right to complain about mistreatment."
EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson said, "Employers often speak about how valuable loyalty in the workplace is. But it's a two-way street. Employees who have been at their jobs for 15 or 25 years -- like those in this case -- are entitled to expect that their employers will not put them on the street because of their age and in defiance of federal law. When Stack Bros. fired Mr. Virta and Ms. Kolodzeske because of their age, it ruptured the band of loyalty and damaged its own business. The EEOC is here to make matters right."
According to its website, Stack Bros. is a privately held corporation and is a major heating and plumbing contractor in the Upper Midwest. Another website lists the company's annual revenue as $5 to $10 million.
The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. The case will be litigated by attorneys in the Milwaukee Area Office.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the agency is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.