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Firing a long-time employee? Good documentation beats age bias claim

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Employees who have worked for their employers for decades often assume that if they are fired, it must be because of their advancing age. Then they sue, alleging age discrimination.

Because they have been employed for so long, they usually don’t have any trouble showing that they were qualified for their job—one of the first requirements for an age discrimination lawsuit. That puts the burden on employers to prove they had a sound reason for the termination.

Recent case: Jack Hayes had worked for Furniture Brands International for more than 30 years when he was terminated. He sued, claiming the real reason for his dismissal was age discrimination.

Furniture Brands argued that it had fired Hayes for two reasons. Apparently Hayes was banned at several of the accounts he serviced because employees complained that he was rude and made sexist and vulgar comments. The company said it fired him because he couldn’t service the accounts since he was shut out from his customers’ premises and because of his unacceptable conduct.

The court ruled against Hayes. It acknowledged he had shown that he was qualified for the job because he had done it for 30 years. However, Furniture Brands was still free to fire him for his boorish conduct. (Hayes v. Furniture Brands; Thomasville Furniture, No. 08-3744, 3rd Cir., 2009)

Final note: This may be a case of an employee failing to keep up with changing social norms. His behavior might have been tolerated decades ago, but not so today.

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