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Pinellas uniform company to try on age-bias suit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Fifteen former employees of a Pinellas uniform company have filed suit against the company, claiming its latest rounds of job cuts violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

In a combination of outsourcing and downsizing, Superior Uniform shipped some jobs to El Salvador and eliminated positions at its plant in Seminole.

The suing workers range in age from 47 to 68. Several recount stories of the company’s president, Michael Benstock, telling an employee breakfast gathering that he wanted to “weed out” older employees. On one occasion, he allegedly told a female employee to color her gray roots.

Many of those suing were allegedly replaced with younger workers. Some suspect they were let go because they had health problems that may have increased the company’s health insurance costs.

Superior denies any wrongdoing, describing the charges as “unfounded and without merit.”

Advice: Downsizing is never easy. A little compassion when laying off workers can go a long way. If you must lay off employees, set clear criteria for determining which workers will go. Age can’t be one of the criteria.

Having a transparent process helps ease the downsizing. It also plays well to juries, who are often made up of employees and retirees, two groups who feel vulnerable in this economy and are more likely to side with an unemployed grandma than a hotshot executive.

Final note: The unemployment rate for workers aged 55 to 64 has doubled since the recession began. EEOC age discrimination complaints are up 60% over last year.

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