July 22, 2016 Category: Age Discrimination
California employers looking to cut labor costs may try to fire older, more experienced workers, who are generally paid more than younger, unskilled workers. This is not a responsible business practice. To the contrary, it is illegal age discrimination, and an employer can end up losing a lot more money in court than it hopes to save by violating the civil rights of honest workers.
Worker Fired Over 68-cent Bell Pepper Receives $16.2 Million
For example, a California appeals court recently upheld a multi-million dollar jury award to a man wrongfully fired from his job due to his age. The plaintiff was employed by an office supply company as a plant supervisor at a facility in Los Angeles County. He had worked for the company for many years without incident.
After the company was acquired by a larger firm, however, the new management made a concerted effort to get rid of old employers so they could be replaced by less expensive workers. About three years after the acquisition, when the plaintiff was 64, he was fired “based on allegations that he stole a bell pepper” from the company’s cafeteria. Apparently, the plaintiff was doing his job inspecting the cafeteria’s refrigerator when a salad fell onto the floor; he “threw out the salad but ate the bell pepper.” The pepper was worth 68 cents.
The plaintiff subsequently sued the employer for age discrimination. At trial, multiple witnesses testified that the manager brought in after the company was acquired made statements confirming his intent to commit age discrimination. One employee testified the manager ordered him to target older workers and write them up for minor workplace infractions in order to justify firing them. This witness said the manager told him point-blank, “We need to get rid of old people because they are slow [and] we can get younger people to work cheaper.”
Other former employees testified they were victims of the manager’s illegal discriminatory policies. The employee above who testified was fired for dropping a case of paper worth $150. Another employee, who was just 44 years old, testified that he was fired in retaliation after reporting the manager’s own theft of company property.
A Los Angeles jury ultimately ruled for the plaintiff on his age discrimination claims and awarded him $3.2 million in compensatory damages—and another $13 million in punitive damages. Earlier this year, the California Second District Court of Appeals upheld the jury’s verdict in its entirety. The appeals court noted the large punitive damages award was justified given the “reprehensibility” of the employer’s conduct in not only illegally firing the plaintiff—depriving his family of most of their income—but also branding him a thief, marring his “professional reputation.”
Have You Been Fired Due to Your Age?
As this case illustrates, age discrimination is not something that the courts take lightly. If you have been fired as part of an illegal effort to eliminate older workers, you should speak with a San Jose age discrimination attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Briski Law Firm today if you require assistance from an experienced employment lawyer.