$140,000 Settlement in Age Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit Against Heating and Plumbing Contractor

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Stack Bros. Mechanical Contractors, Inc. of Superior, Wis., a major heating and plumbing contractor in northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota, will pay $140,000 and furnish other relief to settle an age discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

According to EEOC's suit, Stack Bros. discrim­inated against Randy Virta and Karen Kolodzeske by firing them when they turned 62 in 2014.  Stack Bros. also retaliated against Kolodzeske for resisting its plans to fire her, EEOC alleged.  

According to Julianne Bowman, director of the EEOC's Chicago District, which includes Wisconsin, the agency's pre-lawsuit investigation revealed that both Virta and Kolodzeske repeatedly warned Stack Bros.' owner that his plan to fire them when they turned 62 was illegal.  However, the owner refused to relent, and, after firing Virta, retaliated against Kolodzeske for her complaints by denying her a raise, suspending her without pay for two days and creating a hostile work environment while waiting for her to turn 62. Virta and Kolodzeske had worked for Stack Bros. for 16 and 25 years, respectively.

Age discrimination and retaliation for complaining about it violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Stack Bros. Mechanical Contractors, Inc., No. 3:15-cv-60) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin in Madison in January 2015 after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its concili­ation process.

The consent decree settling the suit, entered by U.S. District Judge William M. Conley on Sept. 18, prohibits future discrimination and provides that Stack Bros. will pay $95,000 to Virta and $35,000 to Kolodzeske, pay $10,000 of their private attorney's fees and train its managers and employees regarding employer obligations and the rights of employees under the ADEA.

Hendrickson added that retaliation complaints have been the fastest-increasing type of complaint filed with the EEOC over the past 15 years. Eliminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC's investigative or enforcement efforts, is one of six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).  

Stack Bros. is a privately held corporation and is a major heating and plumbing contractor in the Upper Midwest. A website lists the company's annual revenue as approximately $10 million.

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