The EEOC has sued Ohio State University for age discrimination, alleging that the school discriminated against a 53-year-old human resources generalist because of his age by assigning a substantial substantial portion of his duties to a short-tenured co-worker 25 years his junior.
“If a termination is age-discriminatory, disguising it behind a supposed reduction in force will not change that,” says EEOC Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence in discussing the filing of the lawsuit.
What does this lawsuit, which challenges a termination that occurred all the way back in March 2018, have to do with the COVID-19 pandemic?
According to this article in the ABA Journal, it is reasonable to expect a flood of age discrimination lawsuits from COVID-19 and the economic downturn it has caused.
“My clients are being told they’re laid off because of COVID and are asking why the kid they trained for two years still has a job,” says Stephen Console of Console Mattiacci Law in Philadelphia, who’s filed about 30 age and disability discrimination cases with administrative agencies since the pandemic started. “The question is what criteria they’re using to say who stays and who goes.”
Employers need to be vigilant in laying off older workers. “High risk for Covid” and “highly compensated” might by proxies for age discrimination. Moreover, if your RIF includes most or all of your older workers and retains most or all of your younger workers, it’s going to look like you are using COVID-19 to mask a discriminatory intent. Simply, you cannot use a COVID-19 reduction in force to purge your workplace of older workers. The EEOC and the plaintiff’s bar are watching.
This post originally appeared on the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, and was written by Jon Hyman, Partner, Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis. Jon can be reached at via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, via telephone at 216-831-0042, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter.