Mattress Firm, a Houston-based bedding retailer, faces charges it discriminated against older workers at its Las Vegas stores. The EEOC has filed suit against the company after efforts to mediate the case failed.
Older workers began complaining to the EEOC in 2007 shortly after Mattress Firm bought out a company called Bedtime Mattress, whose workforce was largely made up of older workers. Within five months of the takeover, many older workers had been terminated, and less than a quarter of the remaining staff was over 40.
Those who remained claimed their new bosses tried to get rid of them, too. Employees quoted Mattress Firm managers as saying the Bedtime Mattress holdovers were “stuck in their ways,” “resistant to change” and “very old.”
The EEOC complaint alleges the company’s goal was to replace 90% of older workers with younger ones. Mattress Firm allegedly began requiring salespeople to perform difficult physical tasks such as loading mattresses on trucks, jobs allegedly performed by porters at other stores.
The company also began flooding the former Bedtime Mattress stores with young “out-of-state ambassadors” who were paid both salary and commission; the older workers continued to work only on commission. The EEOC claims the company instructed a district manager to “fill them up with a bunch of salespeople around them, so they don’t make a commission, so they don’t make any money.”
Barring a settlement, this case will go to trial.
Note: Treating older workers differently than younger ones violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Using terms that imply or state that the person’s age is the reason for any adverse action will lead to legal nightmares for the employer.
- Beware defamation claims based on discipline write-ups
- One lost lawsuit doesn't necessarily lead to more
- Being the only member of a protected class isn't direct evidence of discrimination
- How to discipline with confidence
- Establish clear performance expectations so courts can judge if employee was meeting them