Trash hauler Republic Services agreed to pay nearly $3 million to settle an age discrimination lawsuit brought against the company six years ago.
Under the terms of the agreement announced Wednesday, two veteran managers who lost their jobs in January 2003 -- one of them now dead -- during a round of cost-cutting will split $1.175 million with their attorney. Nineteen other former employees will divide the remaining $1.8 million as determined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which took charge of and expanded the litigation originally filed by the managers.
In addition, 37 former employees will have their official records changed from termination to resignation in order to help them secure future employment.
"What the case exemplified to us is that age stereotyping can be just as damaging as other forms of discrimination," said Anna Park, the regional counsel for the EEOC based in Los Angeles.
In a statement, Republic "strongly denies" engaging in a practice of terminating senior employees due to their age, saying it entered into the settlement "to avoid continued litigation costs."
In a 120-page ruling early last year that removed nearly half of the claimants from the case, U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra called instances of age discrimination at Republic "sporadic."
"(Republic) provided termination data for different transfer stations, types of jobs and reasons for termination," Ezra wrote. "None of that data created an inference of a pattern of age discrimination. Instead, the data created an inference that (Republic's) policies were evenly enforced, regardless of age."
Park said that a portion of the ruling would have been challenged on appeal had there been no settlement. "They came in one day and fired a large number of people, all over 40," she said. "We think there was a pattern."
The amount paid out, said employment attorney Salvatore Gugino, was "certainly representative of the kinds of awards you see in this type of case."
In addition, Republic agreed to annual audits of its employment practices.
The EEOC announced the settlement on Wednesday, although it was filed with the court on Sept. 21.
The case started when supervisors Eddie Williams, Robert LaRocca and William Lacy were terminated from their positions at Republic's Cheyenne transfer station in January 2003. Republic described the move as a way to reduce expenses by combining day and evening shifts into one.
All three were in their mid-50s at the time, and they were replaced by supervisors younger than 40 who earned substantially less. Just two days after the three were released, the company ran help wanted ads for supervisors, leading LaRocca and Lacy to file an age discrimination case, even though none of them ever heard company officials speak in derogatory terms about their ages.
Still, the combination of facts led Ezra to leave LaRocca and Lacy in the case when he issued his ruling last year. Williams later settled separately and Lacy died this year.
After LaRocca and Lacy brought their lawsuit, the EEOC stretched their case into a class action after finding what it considered a wider pattern of age discrimination. Many of those employees, however, were voluntarily dropped from the case before the ruling.
In one aspect of the case, 13 people over 40 claimed they were fired for poor job performance even though younger co-workers were allowed to stay on the payroll with similar records. Five of those claims were dismissed.
In the six years after Vincent Marazzo was hired at age 53 as a driver, he had 15 incidents of causing property damage or failing to report it, including rolling a truck on its side. After being fired and later reinstated, further accidents brought his final termination. However, his claim stood because, according to Ezra's ruling, a supervisor mentioned that Marazzo was getting too old for the job.
Lawrence Wilder Jr. was fired within seven months of his hiring. Because he had no blemish on his record, the EEOC alleged this amounted to age discrimination -- he was 48 at the time -- but Ezra still dismissed his part of the case.
Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at email@example.com or 702-387-5290.