Monday, July 23, 2012

Bag of Bones = age discrimination

realviewStephen King’s Bag of Bones is about an author who moves to a lakeside house to confront his nightmare in the wake of his pregnant wife’s death. EEOC v. Hawaii Healthcare Professionals, Inc., concerns a nightmare of a different kind.

In 2008, Hawaii Healthcare’s owner, Carolyn Frutoz-De Harne, ordered the firing of then 54-year-old Debra Moreno. Frutoz-De Harne proceeded with the termination over the protest of the facility manager, who hired and supervised Moreno, and who thought she was a thorough and efficient worker. In ordering the termination, Frutoz-De Harne allegedly told the manager that Moreno “looks old,” “sounds old on the telephone,” and is “like a bag of bones.” After the termination, the manager reported the ageist comments to Moreno, who in turn filed an age discrimination charge with the EEOC. The agency subsequently filed a lawsuit on Moreno’s behalf.

Last week, a federal court ordered Hawaii Healthcare Professionals to pay Moreno $193,236 for the discrimination. According to the EEOC:

Age should never be a factor when evaluating an employee or job applicant’s worth. What makes this case especially appalling is the flagrant disregard for a worker’s abilities, coupled with disparaging ageist remarks and thinking.

Procedurally, this case is unique because the district court entered a default judgment against Hawaii Healthcare after it failed to respond to the EEOC’s amended complaint. Even if this case proceeded to trial, however, Hawaii Healthcare would have faced an uphill battle. An executive terminating an employee over a manager’s objections and after referring to the fired employee as “bag of bones”? Sounds to me like a tough age case to defend.