55-Year-Old District Manager Fired Days After He Complained of Age Discrimination; Awarded $187,000 in Back Pay
DENVER - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) won a victory in federal court in Denver yesterday afternoon in its employment discrimination lawsuit against major communications equipment retailer RadioShack. A unanimous jury of nine decided that RadioShack intentionally fired an employee in retaliation for his complaints about age discrimination.
According to the EEOC's suit, in the fall of 2007, David Nelson, then 55, had been employed for more than 25 years when RadioShack assigned a new, 43-year-old regional manager to supervise him. Within four months of the new supervisor's arrival at the regional office in Denver, Nelson, who had a spotless performance record, was placed on two performance improvement plans. Nelson believed that he was being discriminated against by his new supervisor because of his age and he complained to the human resources department about the discrimination. Within five days of the first complaint, before the period for assessing the improvement in his performance had expired, RadioShack terminated Nelson in retaliation for his discrimination complaint.
Age discrimination and retaliation for complaining about it violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The lawsuit, EEOC v. RadioShack, Civil Action #10-cv-02365, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, sought back pay, lost benefits, liquidated damages and reinstatement for Nelson. The Denver jury awarded Nelson $187,000 in back pay on the retaliation claim and found that this conduct by RadioShack was willful. Federal Court Judge Lewis T. Babcock will decide several issues in the near future, including liquidated damages, which is double back pay, since the jury found the behavior to be willful. The judge will also determine whether front pay is appropriate and, if so, the amount of front pay, as well as equitable relief.
"It is particularly important for the EEOC to vigorously enforce the anti-retaliation provisions in the employment discrimination laws," said Rita Kittle, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC's Denver Field Office, who tried the case for the EEOC. "If employees do not feel comfortable coming forward when they feel they are being discriminated against, the very purpose of the anti-discrimination statutes is eviscerated."
Nancy Sienko, field director of the Denver Field Office, said, "The EEOC is seeing a disturbing increase in the number of retaliation charges. In fiscal year 2011, the EEOC received 37,334 charges alleging retaliation. This constituted 37.4% of the total number of charges, the largest number of any basis for a discrimination charge."
EEOC Senior Trial Attorney William (Bill) Moench, who tried the case with Kittle, said, "With the graying of the work force, employers may not base employment decisions on age-based stereotypes -- it is unlawful. There was credible testimony during the trial that when a new supervisor started at RadioShack he made a derogatory comment about employees in their 50's. We are heartened that the jury saw RadioShack's discriminatory behavior for what it was -- wrong and illegal. We are so happy for Mr. Nelson, who has waited for justice for several years."
The Commission is dedicated to the enforcement of all the anti-discrimination laws and, if necessary, will try the cases. This is the latest in a series of Commission trial victories nationwide.
According to company information, Fort Worth-based RadioShack employs 32,000 people globally. RadioShack's retail network includes approximately 4,700 company-operated stores in the United States and Mexico, 1,500 wireless phone centers in the United States, and approximately 1,100 dealers and other outlets worldwide.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.