$95,000 Settlement Against Fashion Accessory Company in Age Discrimination Suit

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Dallas-based fashion accessory designer and manufacturer will pay $95,000 and furnish other relief to settle an age discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Tandy Brands Accessories, Inc., a Delaware corporation headquartered in Dallas, violated federal law by terminating Merta Withrow, a 62-year-old manager, because of her age, supposedly as part of a “reduction-in-force,” while retaining a lesser qualified and substantially younger manager. During the course of the EEOC’s investigation, the agency discovered that, within four months, Tandy Brands terminated another five supervisors, whose ages ranged from 75 to 58, at its Victoria, Texas facility.

The company retained only two supervisors in the relevant location, both of whom were in their early 40s. One of these much younger supervisors assumed the position of receiving and returns supervisor, a position he had not previously held, despite the fact that Withrow had successfully held the position for several years, making her better qualified for the position. The EEOC alleges that Tandy Brands retained the younger, lesser qualified supervisor as part of its campaign to give the company a more youthful image, in line with images of staff prominently displayed on its website.

Age discrimination against persons age 40 and over violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Retaining a person who is substantially younger than a better-qualified employee who is terminated may violate the ADEA, even if the retained individual is within the protected age class (over 40). The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division ( Civil Action No. 4:10-cv-03506) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The two-year consent decree settling the suit was signed today by U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison. In addition to the monetary relief, the decree also contains provisions requiring posting of notice of non-discrimination in all company workplaces and offices; annual training for all managers, supervisors and employees; the implementation of effective anti-discrimination policies, complaint procedures and investigative procedures; and other curative measures.

Senior Trial Attorney Connie Wilhite, who handled the case for the EEOC, added, “A company cannot avoid a claim of age discrimination by replacing a 62-year-old with a 40-something if age is the motivating factor. Although the younger person is within the protected class under the ADEA, the fact that he is much younger than the displaced person can and often does signal the company’s intent to discriminate based on age. That is what happened in this case.”

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