Have you ever been asked if you are considering retirement by an employer? If so, your employer may have provided you with evidence of age discrimination if you are later terminated. That is the lesson of Castelluccio v. IBM Corporation, a case decided earlier this year in United States District Court of Connecticut.
The Facts Of Castelluccio v. IBM Corporation
The plaintiff, James Castelluccio, worked at IBM from 1968 through 2008. In 2005, Mr. Castelluccio was named Vice President of IBM’s Integrated Technology Division. In this position, Mr. Castelluccio oversaw nearly 2,500 employees and always received positive performance reviews. By all measures, Mr. Castelluccio had a very successful career at IBM. However, things changed for Mr. Castelluccio when his supervisor retired in 2007.
Mr. Castelluccio’s new supervisor was Joanne Collins-Smee. The day Mr. Castelluccio and Ms. Collins-Smee met, she asked him his age and whether he was interested in retiring. Mr. Castelluccio was not ready to retire, and had plans to work for IBM for several more years. Mr. Castelluccio informed Ms. Collins-Smee that he had no interest in retiring and wanted to continue working for IBM. On two subsequent occasions, Ms. Collins-Smee asked Mr. Castelluccio again about his retirement plans. Mr. Castelluccio reported Ms. Collins-Smee to Human Resources, and IBM launched an investigation. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Castelluccio was terminated. He was sixty-one years old.
Mr. Castelluccio Files An Age Discrimination Claim Against IBM
Mr. Castelluccio filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging he was terminated because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Mr. Castelluccio received a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC and filed a Complaint against IBM in the United States District Court of Connecticut. The District Court ruled that Ms. Collins-Smee’s retirement inquiries were direct evidence of age discrimination. The retirement inquiries were also enough for the jury, who awarded Mr. Castelluccio 2.5 million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages. The jury found that IBM “knew or showed reckless disregard for whether its termination” of Mr. Castelluccio was age discrimination. The judge also awarded Mr. Castelluccio $1.2 million in attorney fees. This case may affect the way Cincinnati employment lawyers analyze fact patterns they are presented with in age discrimination claims.
What Employers And Employees Should Know About Retirement Inquiries
Employees cannot be forced to retire because of their age. Employers who repeatedly ask an employee about retirement are giving the employee evidence of age discrimination if the employee is later fired. It should not be assumed that workers in their 60s or 70s are ready to retire. This case also shows that jurors tend to be sympathetic to older workers who are forced out of their positions.
However, employers do have the right to know if an employee is planning to retire. Practically speaking, employers have the right to know information required to carry out succession planning. In order to plan for the future, employers must, at times, initiate conversations with older employees about their retirement plans. Employers, however, must be careful to avoid any suggestion that they are encouraging or expecting retirement when they raise the possibility of retirement with an older employee. If the employee states that he or she is not ready to retire, or intends to keep working, the employer would be wise to accept that statement at face value and not continue to question the employee about it.
If you have a question about how to deal with questions about retirement of older employees, contact the Cincinnati employment lawyers at Robert A. Klingler Co., L.P.A., today for more information.