A Houston-based seismic technology and equipment company is facing a nearly $1 million jury verdict as the result of a lawsuit brought by one of its former manufacturing managers.
Input/Output terminated Gaines Watkins in 2002 when he was 68 years old, claiming the company was making changes that he was “incapable or unwilling” to implement. Watkins sued, claiming he was fired because he didn’t fit the company’s new youthful image.
According to David Roland, general counsel for Input/Output, departing employees who accept the company’s offer of severance pay must sign an agreement giving up their right to sue. Watkins, who was earning $120,000 a year including bonuses, refused to sign the agreement, forfeiting $26,000 in severance pay.
Watkins claims he heard comments from top officials that indicated they preferred youthful workers. Moreover, the jury was shown a document describing executives as wanting “good young ” and detailing ways to attract workers who can “grow and change.” According to Roland, however, Watkins’ termination was not age-related. The company claims that over two to three years it laid off 56% of its work force because it was a bad time for the seismic industry.
Final tip: Juries often include older, retired citizens who may see things with gray-shaded lenses. Don’t risk a huge jury award by putting age-related statements in any correspondence.
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