Despite the settled rule that workers cannot be fired based solely on their age, age discrimination can be difficult to prove because other factors, such as poor job performance, are often present. A recent verdict in a wrongful termination case shows, however, that given the proper evidence, victims of age discrimination can succeed in court.
The plaintiff was originally hired as food and beverage director of a Santa Barbara hotel in 2013. He was in charge of managing the staff and ordering supplies for three restaurants and was also in charge of the hotel's room service. The plaintiff alleged that he was fired after he complained about an interview with the hotel's owner in which he was criticized for his age (64) and was told that he was no longer a "spring chicken."
The plaintiff's replacement was 29-years-old and had no experience as a food and beverage director. The defendants claimed that the plaintiff was fired for poor work performance, but the evidence showed that the plaintiff had not been the subject of any complaints and had received regular raises and bonuses before he was fired.
The jury found that the defendant had engaged in discriminatory conduct with "malice, oppression or fraud," and it awarded the plaintiff actual damages of $145,577 for past and future lost earnings and pain and suffering, plus $400,000 in punitive damages. The defendants' attorney is presently contemplating making several post-trial motions intended to set aside the verdict.
Regardless of the final outcome, this case demonstrates that age discrimination can be the basis for a successful wrongful termination lawsuit. Anyone who has been discharged because of age, race or gender may want to consult a lawyer who specializes in wrongful termination cases. Such a consultation can provide a helpful analysis of the facts and law of the case and give an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages and attorneys' fees.
Source: Santa Barbara Noozhawk, "Jury Awards $545,000 in Damages in Santa Barbara Restaurant Wrongful-Termination Case," Giana Magnoli, Dec. 20, 2016