Age Discrimination Grounds for California Labor Lawsuit
Even though California is an “at will” state (meaning that you can be fired at any time, for any reason, unless that reason is illegal), under California and federal employment laws employers cannot fire someone for age discrimination if the person is at least 40 years old.
Suzy says that her supervisor started asking her a few years ago when she was going to retire, even though everyone told her that she was the best organizer the union had. “I was an external organizer, I knocked on doors to get people to join the SEIU local 521 union,” she says. “The union comprises 2.5 million members nationwide and here in the valley about 80,000 members. I recruited service employees, from social and mental health workers to child care providers to janitors.”
Suzy was involved in a car crash at work and was diagnosed with whiplash, but after just a week off she was told in an e-mail from her supervisor that if she didn’t return to work by a certain date she would be terminated.
“Unbelievably I got into another car crash just a few weeks after returning to work. I was driving but I wasn’t at fault either time and that is on the record. This time I asked for PTSD treatment because I was afraid to drive. To make a long story short, Workers Compensation sent me to their doctor who said I was ready to go back to work, against my doctor’s orders.
“I wasn’t expecting at all to be fired. I just got a letter that said my position was terminated and I had to move my belongings from my desk or they would do it for me. And they said my health insurance was soon to be terminated; all I could do was sign up for COBRA, which would cost me $3,000 per month. I still have to figure out how to get my pension.”
Suzy believes she was fired because of her age and her medical bills. On top of her Workers Compensation claim for back and neck injuries and now PTSD, she is also diabetic: combine that with her age and Suzy believes her union now considered her a liability rather than an asset.
“What organizers do is very hard work and I typically worked 60-80 hours per week; I was paid salary and never got paid California overtime, nor was I expecting to get compensated because I signed a contract. I expect my union to follow their contract and the California labor code - they should know better. I heard that I was replaced by someone in her 30s and that is a sure sign of age discrimination.”
After Suzy found out that she was replaced by someone more than 30 years younger, her next step was to file a California Labor Lawsuit. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, age discrimination charges have soared since 2008, up to 25,000 more complaints a year.
Age discrimination claims have been referred to as “a vampire lawsuit - an emotional energy eater.” But filing a wrongful termination suit can hold former employers liable for their illegal behavior and get the compensation you deserve.
Recently a former maintenance worker (over 55 years of age) filed a California wrongful termination suit. He suffered an injury at work - where he had been employed for 25 years - and his doctor restricted his lifting to less than 50 pounds. The company was OK with that but a few years later his hours were cut. In his lawsuit, the employee said he was fired based on his age and disabilities. He claims that age discrimination was the only reason he was terminated from his job. The company, on the other hand, denies any wrongdoing. The man is asking for damages for lost wages, punitive damages, cost of the suit damages, attorney’s fees and other unspecified damages.
In February 2014, a 66-year-old man was awarded $26 million by a Los Angeles jury that determined he was discriminated against and harassed based upon his age by his supervising managers at Staples. Bobby Dean Nickel was 64 when Staples fired him, despite receiving excellent job reviews for nine years. In his lawsuit Nickel claimed that his mangers wanted to discharge older, higher paid employees, and that he was the butt of jokes at staff meetings, often called an “old coot” and “old goat.”
Nickel stuck to his guns and refused to resign. The situation worsened: false accusations and more harassment came from his manager and co-workers, and he was suspended for taking a 68 cent bell pepper from the company cafeteria, according to the lawsuit. And a receptionist told Nickel she was ordered by management to provide a false statement about his conduct but she refused to do so. Nickel’s lawyer, Carney Shegerian, said, “This verdict and the justice served will hopefully put employers on notice that they cannot discriminate against employees based on age.”
Suzy is looking forward to her day in court…