A former employee of Ernie Haire Ford who claimed the dealership fired him because of his age won a $5.8 million verdict in Hillsborough Circuit Court.
Benjamin Atkinson worked as a wholesale manager for the company’s Florida Avenue store in Tampa for nearly six years before being fired in June 2005. A 26-year-old man replaced Atkinson, who was 54 at the time.
Ernie Haire Ford said Atkinson was fired for trading in a flood-damaged vehicle without disclosing it and allowing an unauthorized person to use an automobile and then wreck it. During the trial, the company claimed Atkinson admitted to some knowledge about the flood damage.
Atkinson’s attorney used records at trial to show the dealership had 131 employees who were at least 52 years old in 2005, when Atkinson lost his job. The number dropped to 49 by March 2006—not exactly an attractive statistic for the employer.
Perhaps anecdote spoke even louder: A recently fired general sales manager testified that the company told him his position was eliminated, then replaced him with a man in his 30s.
It was enough to convince the jury, which took less than an hour to return its verdict.
Final note: Florida has the nation’s largest population of seniors—and if you get hauled into court to defend an age discrimination claim, chances are your jury will include a few older citizens.
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