The scenario: Two days after he was placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP), a 57-year-old crew member complained to his supervisor that he’d been discriminated against because of his age.
The older man stated that a coworker had told him, “You aren’t 30 years old anymore.” The coworker also said, “You have some white hair,” and “I don’t like working with people who have to dye their hair.”
The supervisor who heard the older employee’s bias complaint took no action in response to it, even though the employer had a policy that required all complaints of discrimination to be investigated. The supervisor said there was no probe into the man’s allegation of age bias because the staffer had been designated for the PIP due to his poor performance, not because of his age.
The older employee asked for several extensions of the PIP, all of which were granted. Nevertheless, he continued to express his belief that there was nothing wrong with his performance and that he was facing unjustified scrutiny because of his age.
After the older man sent an email alleging age bias, a manager included in the email chain stated, “I’ve had enough.” The older staffer was fired even though the PIP hadn’t yet been completed.
Legal challenge: The terminated crew member sued for retaliation.
The ruling: The employer lost. The court said the company failed to investigate the older man’s complaint of age bias despite its own policy requiring it to do so, then fired him before the completion of his PIP.
The skinny: Never turn a blind eye to a crew member’s allegation of discrimination. All claims of bias must be promptly and effectively investigated.
Cite: Chen v. Triumph Engine Control Systems, U.S. District Court, D. Connecticut, No. 3:20-cv-01840, 3/30/23.
(From the April 28, 2023, issue of HR Managers Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)