$700,000 to Settle Age Discrimination and Retaliation Suit Filed by EEOC

An employer’s recent settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission should get Employers Council members’ attention.

After the EEOC sued the State of New Mexico’s Corrections Department (NMCD) for age discrimination and retaliation, the NMCD has agreed to settle the case for $700,000 and other relief.

The EEOC alleged that the NMCD discriminated against several employees by denying them promotions and other job assignments based on their age. The EEOC further alleged that after the victims of the alleged discrimination complained or otherwise opposed the discrimination, they were retaliated against.

In a press release announcing the settlement, the EEOC made its position clear:

“Employers who make employment decisions based on stereotypical notions of an older worker’s ability to work risk losing good employees who bring valuable experience and skill to their jobs.  The EEOC will vigorously enforce the laws prohibiting age discrimination and retaliation against workers who have the courage to complain about it.”

Along with paying $700,000 to several past and current employees, NMCD also agreed to update its discrimination policies, provide anti-discrimination training to all its employees, and conduct periodic internal analyses of job selection decisions to determine when age discrimination might exist.

Moreover, it’s safe to assume that in addition to the $700,000 it will pay former and current employees, this employer also paid its own defense lawyers many thousands of dollars to represent them in this litigation.

Employers Council members in Utah, Colorado, and Arizona should pay particularly close attention to this case as it was filed by the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office, which covers those three states (among others).

This case (and expensive settlement!) should remind employers of a fundamental, but crucial concept: the importance of preventing discrimination (age and otherwise) and retaliation in the workplace. More specifically, however, it illustrates how costly getting sued for discrimination can be.