Employees who begin to feel less valued at work often look for some underlying reason. Often they focus on suspected age, sex, national origin or some other form of discrimination. Then, when a layoff or reorganization costs them their jobs, they sue.
Frequently they’ll argue that they should have been offered open positions, even if it would have meant receiving a smaller salary than they had been making. This is especially common in age-discrimination cases.
But if you can show an employee previously rejected an offer of a lower-paying position, you may be able to persuade a court that you didn’t offer a similar position this time because you reasonably thought the employee wasn’t interested. That’s what happened in the following case.
Recent case: Dianne Foster, who was 51 years old when she lost her job in a company reorganization, claimed age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. She said her employer failed to offer her an open job and hired younger employees instead.
But the company pulled out Foster’s personnel file and pointed out that Foster had rejected an earlier job offer that paid less than the one she kept until she was terminated. It believed that she wasn’t interested in jobs that paid less or had fewer responsibilities, and didn’t offer it.
The court threw out the case, reasoning that the employer honestly (and reasonably) believed Foster wasn’t interested.
Thus, not offering the position wasn’t pretext for discrimination in favor of younger employees. Rather, it was an honest misunderstanding about Foster’s willingness to accept a lower-paying position. (Foster v. Principal Life, No. 06-3068, 7th Cir., 2007)
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