Working for Justice

Workers Succeed in Class Age Discrimination Settlement, But Much Remains to be Done

After nearly two years of highly contested litigation, the Eastern District of Tennessee United States District Court recently granted final approval of a class action settlement resolving Tennessee auto-workers’ age discrimination claims against Volkswagen. Plaintiffs, represented by attorneys in Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP’s Nashville and New York offices, brought this lawsuit on behalf of older workers to stop Volkswagen from implementing what was alleged to be a systematic corporate initiative to phase out older workers while transitioning to a younger and more technology driven corporate plan in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621, et seq. (“ADEA”) and the Tennessee Human Rights Act, T.C.A. §§ 4-21-101, et seq. (“THRA”).

While the Volkswagen workers were able to secure an excellent outcome, one that required the company to make changes to its hiring, promotion, management training, and complaints and investigation procedures, much remains to be done in the fight against age discrimination. The underlying issues raised by the class of Volkswagen employees are unfortunately all too familiar for workers around the nation.

This is especially so given the country’s aging workforce.  The EEOC reports that over the last 25 years, the share of the workforce age 55 and older has doubled. With this shift in workforce demographics has come an renewed focus on the increase in age discrimination felt by workers.

For example, one recent study surveyed workers over 40 and found that 66% felt they had been stereotyped as resistant to change or learning new skills, and 54% believed they had been stereotyped as resistant to, or unable to understand, new technologies.  This is largely consistent with the EEOC’s data, which reveals that the majority of workers over the age of 45 have seen or experienced age discrimination at work. While it is still early, already there are reports that ageism is only increasing during the current COVID 19 pandemic, making it “open season for discrimination against older, vulnerable people.”

The effects of age discrimination are devastating for workers, both financially and physically. The EEOC reports that more than three-quarters of older workers find that age is “an obstacle to finding a job.”  Even more alarming, a study arising out of Yale found that annually over $63 billion is spent in the United States on the adverse health consequences of age discrimination, arising out of more than 17 million cases of health conditions attributed to age discrimination.

Therefore, it is particularly important that employees who believe they may have been discriminated against on the basis of their age should contact an employment lawyer immediately. Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP has experienced age discrimination lawyers in New York, Washington, DC, Baltimore, San Francisco, San Diego, and Tennessee, who can assess the circumstances of your case.

Jonathan Tepe is an Associate in the Nashville office of Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP.
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Leigh Anne St. Charles is a Senior Litigation Counsel in the Nashville office of Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP. She represents employees in individual and class actions involving discrimination, family and medical leave, employee benefits, and civil rights.
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