The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Court Rules that Bull HN Discriminated Against Older Workers in Severance Plans
BOSTON - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced that the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts recently granted its Motion for Summary Judgment against Bull HN Information Systems, Inc. (Bull HN), located in Billerica, Mass. The suit, filed jointly with the Office of the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, charged Bull HN with discriminating against older workers in connection with a series of reductions-in-force (RIFs) by requiring them to sign unlawful waivers of claims in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), as amended. Bull HN serves as the North American headquarters of Bull Infrastructure & Systems, an international information technology company with over 18,000 employees in nearly 100 countries in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
"Unlawful waivers that strip older workers of their rights under the ADEA will be pursued by the EEOC to the fullest extent of the law," said Commission Chairwoman Ida L. Castro. "Employers will be well served to ensure that staff reductions comply with civil rights protections."
In its suit, EEOC and the Attorney General's Office alleged that Bull's severance plan adversely affected older employees by requiring them to sign waivers of their right to file charges and cooperate with public agencies as a condition of obtaining severance benefits. The suit further charged that Bull's severance plan failed to meet the requirements of the ADEA, as amended by the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990, by violating statutory information requirements, not allowing employees sufficient time to consider the terms of the agreement, and/or not providing employees with additional compensation.
In granting the Motion for Summary Judgment by EEOC and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner wrote: "The Commonwealth and the EEOC are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on their allegations regarding the unlawful Releases used by Bull from July 1994 - December 1997."
An ADEA waiver, or release, is an agreement between an employer and employee in which the employee gives up the right to pursue an age discrimination claim against the employer in exchange for severance or early retirement benefits or something else of value. Employees are often asked to sign waivers in connection with layoffs or RIFs.
Under Title II of the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990, which amended the ADEA, Congress decided to permit these waivers, but set out a series of specific requirements with which waivers must comply to be valid. Although employers may ask for waivers, they must also comply with the ADEA requirements to ensure that the process is fair.
"Older employees who are asked to sign waiver agreements have specific statutory rights under the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act," said Katherine Bissell, regional attorney of EEOC's New York District Office, which filed the suit. "Among other things, these provisions include the unequivocal right of employees to bring claims to the EEOC, which was a key issue in this case."
Further information about the ADEA and OWBPA, including EEOC guidance and rulemaking on waivers, is available on EEOC's Web site at http://www.eeoc.gov. In addition to enforcing the ADEA, which protects workers who are 40 years of age or older, the EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin; the Equal Pay Act; prohibitions against discrimination affecting individuals with disabilities in the federal sector; sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991; and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments.
This page was last modified on June 12, 2001.
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