Case Type: Age Discrimination
Company: Volkswagen AG
Attorneys from Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP today filed a class action Complaint against Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft (Volkswagen AG) and two of its wholly owned United States subsidiaries in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. It alleges Volkswagen AG, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., and Volkswagen Group of America Chattanooga Operations, LLC are engaged in a company-wide policy of age discrimination against employees 50 years and older.
Named plaintiff Jonathan Manlove, 53, a resident of Oolltewah, TN, and a former Assistant Manager in VW’s Chattanooga auto manufacturing facility, is bringing the suit on behalf of himself and similarly situated U.S. employees of Volkswagen AG and its subsidiaries.
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The Plaintiff’s legal team includes Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Nashville Office Managing Partner Kevin Sharp, who was a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee from May 2011 through April 2017, serving from 2014 to 2017 as the Court’s Chief Judge, and Leigh Anne St. Charles, an associate in the firm’s Nashville office.
“In the wake of the economically devastating ‘Dieselgate’ emissions scandal that destroyed VW’s reputation worldwide, the German automaker announced it is attempting a re-boot by rebranding Volkswagen as a younger, sleeker company,” said Sharp. “Apparently flouting U.S. environmental laws was not enough. It appears the company is now attempting to purge older workers from its management ranks by implementing illegal age discrimination policies. Mr. Manlove is determined that VW’s impermissible employment practices will not go unnoticed or unchallenged.”
Dr. Herbert Diess, Brand Chief of the Volkswagen Group announced the company’s strategic rebranding campaign aptly named “TRANSFORM 2025+” in November 2016 in an effort to distract attention from the Dieselgate debacle. The plan focuses on replacing the old diesel-centric image of VW for a corporate persona emphasizing electric vehicles, e-mobility and connectivity, and “significant improvements in efficiency and productivity.”
In a June 26, 2017 press release, Volkswagen AG announced, “We are expecting our management levels to become younger and slimmer,” and elaborating: “We are becoming slimmer, leaner and younger. This will make Volkswagen faster and more efficient at the same time as providing new motivation for junior managers.” Among the reforms of TRANSFORM 2025+ is “Pact for the Future” – a global policy of swapping older VW workers for much younger ones – with the goal of eliminating 30,000 global jobs.
The company intends to shed some 7,000 of these jobs in North and South America currently held by older workers, in part through an early retirement scheme, and in part through a policy of what it euphemistically refers to as “natural fluctuations.”
Three days after the company issued its “younger, slimmer” press release, Manlove was demoted three grades, to his first position when he joined VW in 2011, and transferred to a position in a different department. VW informed him the June 2017 demotion “was in recognition of his hard work,” and gave him one year to find a new position in the company, or the demotion would become permanent.
In the year since, Manlove has applied for other positions in the company, but VW management has prevented him from securing them.
“The clock is ticking for Jonathan, and his efforts to undo his discriminatory demotion have not been successful,” said St. Charles. “No monetary compensation is at stake for him or members of the class. He is a talented American auto worker who simply wants to continue performing the work at VW he is most capable of doing at a salary commensurate with his considerable training, skills, and experience. He and others facing age discrimination at the company have many years of work productivity remaining. Demoting them and eliminating their positions to embellish VW’s tarnished reputation is simply wrong.”
The Complaint describes the plight of additional U.S. employees at VW age 50 and older who have experienced similar recent discrimination as part of the Pact for the Future initiative.
Today’s action seeks injunctive relief for Manlove and other class members, including preventing VW from making his demotion permanent, requiring the company to restore his former title and work responsibilities, and preventing VW from discriminating against other older workers in the future.
The Complaint also asks the court to certify a collective action under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, which protects employees 40 years of age and older from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment. A jury trial is requested.