According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) discriminated against older employees by laying them off at greater rates than people under 40. And, when it came time to rehire them, the older employees were passed over in favor of younger employees who were less qualified.
If true, this violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The EEOC attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement with JPL but to no avail. Therefore, it filed suit in federal district court.
Now, JPL has agreed to settle the complaints of dozens of older employees for $10 million and to undertake a consent decree for three years. The consent decree includes an injunction against further workplace discrimination, along with a requirement for a monitor, diversity director and layoff coordinator who will supervise compliance with the ADEA and the consent decree.
In addition, JPL has agreed to review and update its anti-age discrimination policies and procedures, provide age bias training to all employees, and report to the EEOC on its recruitment, hiring, layoffs and terminations, along with any complaints about age discrimination. It will also monitor any age discrimination complaints to prevent retaliation.
“Age discrimination is detrimental to companies that can benefit from the experience and expertise of older workers,” said a spokesperson for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “We are encouraged that JPL has taken the allegations seriously and has agreed to measures that will benefit the workplace.”
JPL performs research and development in California for NASA and the federal government. Since 1958, it has been NASA’s primary planetary spacecraft center, performing the design and operation work of missions to the Moon, earth orbit and deep space.
Disparate treatment of older employees can qualify as age discrimination
This lawsuit is particularly interesting because it alleged disparate treatment. This is a legal concept where the complaint is that a company’s policies and procedures resulted in people 40 and over being treated less favorably, even if those policies and procedures weren’t intentionally discriminatory.
The EEOC has routinely held that proof of disparate treatment can be sufficient to prove discrimination, even in the absence of evidence of intent to discriminate.
Have you received unfair treatment under your employer’s policies? You may have a legitimate workplace discrimination claim even if you can’t prove the policies were meant to facilitate discrimination. To determine whether you have a claim and what steps to take to resolve it, discuss your specific situation with an experienced employment law attorney.