February 2012 Archives

February 25, 2012

Age Discrimination Cases at Indiana Universities would be Fewer if Age Limit was Abolished

Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Worth (IPFW) is set to lose Michael Wartell as Chancellor due to a university retirement policy. The current policy requires high-level administrators to retire at the age of 65. However, many are questioning the usefulness of this type of policy.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was enacted in 1967 to protect workers over the age of forty from being discriminated against in decisions such as hiring, firing, and promotions. However, an exception was made for high level executives in both the public and private sectors that allowed employers to set mandatory retirement ages for those individuals at the top. Most U.S. colleges took advantage of this exception, setting mandatory retirement ages for both faculty members and high-level administrators. In 1994, schools were forbidden by federal law from making faculty members retire at a certain age. And over the years, most universities have done away with forced retirement of administrators as well. But many universities in Indiana are still enforcing this policy.

Last year, Indiana University faced an age discrimination lawsuit from a 64-year-old dean who was denied a three-year position. Even though a large majority of the faculty wanted her to be reappointed, the vice chancellor had to turn her down because she would have hit the mandatory retirement age of 65 during her term. The EEOC agreed with the dean and determined that the policy did not apply to her because she would not have received a large enough retirement benefit to qualify for the policy. The university settled with her and allowed her to stay on in a different position. But she remains disappointed in the university and its decision to retain the mandatory retirement requirement. "I can tell you that having no choice but to step down from an office wherein I was viewed as being successful by my colleagues and to which I was otherwise entitled to retain by virtue of an excellent review felt discounting and humiliating," she said.

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February 17, 2012

How the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act affects Kentucky Workers

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) is a federal law that was passed in 1988 and became effective in 1989. According to the Department of Labor, the act "protects workers, their families, and communities by requiring most employers with 100 or more employees to provide notification 60 calendar days in advance of plant closings and mass layoffs." While this quote gives a general description of what the act does, more information is needed to understand which employers are required to follow the WARN Act and which employees may benefit from its protection.

As the quote says, a company must employ at least 100 workers for the WARN Act to apply. All 100 workers must have been employed by the company for at least six months and average at least 20 work hours per week. For example, a company that employs 65 people year-round and hires another 40 seasonal workers for three months would not be governed by the WARN Act.

Even companies that have 100 qualifying employees may be exempt in certain circumstances. If a company is trying to find investors to help keep the company afloat, and giving a 60-day notice to its employees would hinder this activity, the company may not be required to give the notice. If Mother Nature causes the company to be shut down due to a disaster such as a tornado, hurricane, or flood, the notice is not required because the closure could not be anticipated. In a similar vein, if a company suddenly loses a main source of income because of a cancelled contract or other unforeseeable issue, a 60-day notice may not be possible. In these cases, the companies are still required to provide notice of the layoffs or closure as soon as possible, and they must provide a viable reason why the full 60-day notice could not be given.

The next part of the act to consider is which employees are covered. In general, anyone working for a company that fits the criteria above would be covered, including salaried and hourly employees, managers and supervisors. There are exceptions though. Anyone working for a branch of the government - federal, state, or local - is exempt. Those who have accepted a position knowing it is temporary and those who are hired as self-employed contractors do not qualify. Individuals who are involved in a labor dispute lock-out or who participate in a strike are also not entitled to the 60-day notice.

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February 8, 2012

Alleged Wage Law Violations and Discrimination at Restaurant Chain

1151761_waiter.jpgAnother restaurant chain is coming under fire for potential discrimination against a protected class of employees. Last year, Texas Roadhouse Restaurants, which is based in Louisville Kentucky, was sued for allegedly discriminating against employees and potential employees that were over the age of 40. The lawsuit claims that interviewers remarked about applicants' ages during interviews, and that older employees were not allowed to be hosts or work at the bar. Instead they were relegated to the back of the restaurant or the kitchen. Even the people pictured in the training materials were obviously individuals well under 40.

Darden Restaurants owns several popular chains throughout the United States, including LongHorn Steakhouse, Red Lobster, and Olive Garden. The company employs over 180,000 people. Employees of Capital Grille, another of Darden's chains, have filed a lawsuit claiming racial discrimination and violation of federal wage laws. Similar to the Texas Roadhouse suit, employees of a protected class - in this case minorities - claim they are being discriminated against by being given less desirable positions in the restaurants and are being denied the chance to advance in the company. Some experts think the plaintiffs will have a hard time proving this part of the case because the CEO of the company is African American and about 30 percent of the managers-in-training that have moved up from other roles are minorities.

The other issue in the case is the alleged violation of federal wage laws. Servers in restaurants are generally exempt from minimum wage laws, which means they can be paid less than minimum wage, because they earn tips that in theory make up the difference in pay. According to the lawsuit against Darden, the company currently requires servers to share a portion of their tips with hourly employees, whose hourly rates are higher than the servers because they have to be paid at least minimum wage. Restaurant employees also claim that they have to do prep work before their shifts begin and after they end and they are not being compensated for it.

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February 1, 2012

Can You Claim Age Discrimination if Your Replacement is Older than You?

In 2003, Gloria Garcia's employment as a school secretary was terminated by the principal of a school in the Mission school district. She had been employed by the school for 17 years and was 48 years old. In a regular story about age discrimination, the next bit of information would be how much younger her replacement was. But this case is unusual in that Ms. Garcia's replacement was actually three years older.

The school district has tried twice to have the case thrown out, partly because they claim schools cannot be sued for discrimination, and partly because age appears to be a non-issue in the firing of Ms. Garcia since her replacement was older. The school appeals took so much time that Ms. Garcia will not get to personally hear the final verdict in the case because she passed away in 2010. But the decision will still be important to other employees who are over 40, including two women who were let go by the same school district.

Ms. Garcia's attorney contends that the school district can definitely be sued for discrimination because it is regulated by individuals elected in to office, it runs on money collected from taxpayers, and it provides a public service. She also explains how an age discrimination claim could be valid when the new employee is older than the one terminated. One scenario would be that the supervisor responsible for the firing did not hire the replacement. So in this case it is possible that the principal had an issue with Ms. Garcia's age and wrongfully terminated her, but it was left up to human resources to find a replacement, which they did. The individual just happened to be older. Another possibility brought up by one of the chief justices reviewing the case is that an attorney for the school district realized they could be in trouble for firing Ms. Garcia based on her age, so he recommended that she be replaced by an older person.

These questions could be answered through depositions and documents, if the school system would stop filing appeals so discovery could continue. Ms. Garcia's attorney admits that if it is proven that the same principal that fired Ms. Garcia also hired her older replacement, then she would most likely no longer have a case. But for now, the questions still remain.

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