Employees Were Fired at Superior, Wis., Firm for Turning 62, Federal Agency Charged
MADISON, Wis. - Stack Bros. Mechanical Contractors, Inc. of Superior, Wis., a major heating and plumbing contractor in northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota, will pay $140,000 and furnish other relief to settle an age discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to EEOC's suit, Stack Bros. discriminated against Randy Virta and Karen Kolodzeske by firing them when they turned 62 in 2014. Stack Bros. also retaliated against Kolodzeske for resisting its plans to fire her, EEOC alleged.
According to Julianne Bowman, director of the EEOC's Chicago District, which includes Wisconsin, the agency's pre-lawsuit investigation revealed that both Virta and Kolodzeske repeatedly warned Stack Bros.' owner that his plan to fire them when they turned 62 was illegal. However, the owner refused to relent, and, after firing Virta, retaliated against Kolodzeske for her complaints by denying her a raise, suspending her without pay for two days and creating a hostile work environment while waiting for her to turn 62. Virta and Kolodzeske had worked for Stack Bros. for 16 and 25 years, respectively.
Age discrimination and retaliation for complaining about it violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Stack Bros. Mechanical Contractors, Inc., No. 3:15-cv-60) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin in Madison in January 2015 after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The consent decree settling the suit, entered by U.S. District Judge William M. Conley on Sept. 18, prohibits future discrimination and provides that Stack Bros. will pay $95,000 to Virta and $35,000 to Kolodzeske, pay $10,000 of their private attorney's fees and train its managers and employees regarding employer obligations and the rights of employees under the ADEA.
"Employers often speak about how valuable loyalty in the workplace is," said EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson. "But it's a two-way street. Long-time, dedicated employees, like those in this case, are entitled to expect that their employers will not discharge them because of their age and in defiance of federal law. When Stack Bros. fired Mr. Virta and Ms. Kolodzeske because of their age, it ruptured the band of loyalty. This settlement is a way to make things right."
Hendrickson added that retaliation complaints have been the fastest-increasing type of complaint filed with the EEOC over the past 15 years. Eliminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC's investigative or enforcement efforts, is one of six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
"Sometimes we need to reinforce, through litigation, the message that workers should not be punished for opposing job discrimination," Hendrickson said. "We appreciate Stack Bros.' willingness to provide relief for Mr. Virta and Ms. Kolodzeske and to prevent further age discrimination in its facilities."
Stack Bros. is a privately held corporation and is a major heating and plumbing contractor in the Upper Midwest. A website lists the company's annual revenue as approximately $10 million.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website, www.eeoc.gov.