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211,000 reasons to make age-blind employment decisions: Employee can sue for mental anguish

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources

If Texas employers need any more reasons to avoid making hiring, firing, compensation or work condition decisions based on a person’s age, here’s a good one: Texas law says employees who prove their employers fired them due to their age are able to collect damages for mental anguish.

Even employees who find another job quickly can end up with a nice “bonus” for their suffering, since Texas allows fired employees to tell the jury directly about their pain without the need for outside expert testimony.

Recent case: Salvador Reyes, 62, was fired after a female employee claimed that Reyes and other (younger) workers sexually harassed her. Only Reyes was fired and deemed not eligible for rehire; the others were eligible. Reyes claimed he really had been singled out because he was older.

But during the trial, it came to light that the female employee never actually said she’d been sexually harassed. Reyes testified that he couldn’t sleep, drank more than he should and got a stress-related rash. The jury valued his pain and suffering at $211,840 and the Court of Appeals of Texas upheld the award. (Autozone v. Reyes, No. 13-03-338, Tx App.– Corpus Christi, 2006)

Legal note: This is an example of where state age discrimination law differs from the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Under the ADEA, Reyes would not have been able to collect for his pain and suffering. Instead, he would have been entitled to double his economic damages if he could show the violation was willful.  

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