On Septemeber 15, 2011, an Indiana United States District Court found that a reasonable jury could find that employee, a 63-year old employee at Knauf GmbH (“Knauf”), a German company, was terminated because of his age and his claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
The ADEA makes it illegal for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age.” (29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1)).
The case arises out of a the termination of employee for smoking on company property, which is only permitted in certain areas. Knauf had two relevant policies reagarding smoking on company property: 1) Knauf employees caught smoking in non-warehouse areas are subject to a four-step, progressive disciplinary procedure; and 2) Immediate termination for smoking in warehouse areas due to high concentrations of flammable materials. Knauf claimed srtict complaince to these policies.
Employee claims the he was smoking in the Old Warehouse area. There is a question of fact regarding whether or not Mr. Maple was smoking in a warehouse area.
Regardless, employee provided evidence referencing four other employees who had engagaed in similar conduct and were only subject to progressive discipline. Two of the referenced employees were significantly younger than him, caught smoking in an area similar to the Old Receiving Department, and not terminated. While the other two employees were both terminated for smoking in a warehouse area, but reinstated after three weeks.
As you saw in the case above, an employee’s claim for age discrimination can easily be established when an employer does not uniformly apply a company policy, especially when the employee complaining is over 40 and younger employeees were treated differently.
To avoid adverse employment actions in violation of the ADEA, employers must enusre their policies do not have an adverse impact on older employees, apply all policies uniformly or have a business-related reason for every deviation, and document all reasons for termination or discupline.
In 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received a total of 99,947 complaints of discrimination. Almost one fourth (23,465) of the total complaints included ADEA violation allegations.