U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Telephone Company Demoted and Discharged Employees Because of Their Age and Failed to Hire Qualified Applicants Over the Age of 40, Federal Agency Charges
RICHMOND, Va. – Richmond-based Cavalier Telephone, LLC violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) by discriminating against employees and a class of job applicants because of their age and retaliating against two employees for complaining about the discrimination, the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC’s suit (EEOC v. Cavalier Telephone, LLC, Civ. Action No. 3:10-cv-664), filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division, on or about June 2003 and September 2003, employees Benjamin Heaney and Leonard Pearson made several complaints to Cavalier management concerning a Cavalier recruiter making age-based comments and using age as a criterion for hiring sales staff. The recruiter made comments such as that Cavalier was on a “youth movement” and that the company was only looking for candidates who were “young and fit.” The recruiter also made comments indicating a preference for “young” (under age 40) candidates for sales positions, and would not let Heaney hire qualified candidates over 40 years of age or older.
In October 2003, after repeated complaints to Cavalier management, Heaney was demoted and subsequently discharged after several disciplinary actions that the EEOC asserts were discriminatory and retaliatory. Pearson was also demoted after opposing the defendant’s unlawful hiring practices, and later resigned. At the time of their demotions and Heaney’s discharge, both men were over the age of 40.
The EEOC charged that the recruiter indicated both verbally and in writing that Cavalier was looking for candidates for its sales positions who were “recent college graduates,” and in their “early 20s or 30s.” Cavalier offered its employees a $500 bonus for referral of a “friend’s younger brother and sister.” As a result of the discriminatory recruitment and hiring, Cavalier has maintained a workforce that under-represents people age 40 and over in its sales positions in its mid-Atlantic region.
Specifically, the EEOC’s suit charges that beginning in May of 2003 and continuing, Cavalier continually failed and refused to hire a class of qualified applicants who were age 40 and over for its sales account executive positions within Cavalier’s mid-Atlantic region, which is composed of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the District of Columbia.
Finally, the EEOC charged that Cavalier violated EEOC regulations and the record-keeping requirements of the ADEA by failing to keep applications and other documents related to its hiring procedures.
Age discrimination and retaliation for complaining about it violate the ADEA. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In its complaint, the EEOC seeks rightful-place hiring, front pay and back pay for the class members, who will be identified during the litigation, as well as injunctive relief. EEOC also seeks compensatory damages and punitive damages for Heaney and Pearson. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.
“In these times when our economy presents challenges to employment stability, employers cannot refuse to hire qualified older workers because of their age; it is illegal,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office, which oversees litigation filed by the agency in Virginia. “Employers must also be mindful of the fact that federal law prohibits them from taking adverse employment actions against employees who oppose discriminatory practices in the workplace.”
Cavalier operates facilities in the following locations within its mid-Atlantic region where EEOC alleges the discriminatory hiring occurred: Richmond, Herndon, Hampton Roads, and Fredericksburg, Virginia; Baltimore and Salisbury, Maryland; Atlantic City, Princeton, and Trenton, New Jersey; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Wilmington, Delaware.
According to Barnes, “One of the biggest challenges in this lawsuit will be to find class members. EEOC will have to identify people age 40 or older, who applied or attempted to apply to work for Cavalier in a sales position so that it can determine whether they qualify as a class member. This will be difficult because some people may have been ‘chilled’ from applying and thus did not submit an application. Also, Cavalier did not keep applications for some candidates who actually applied. Thus, it will be hard to find all those persons who were denied hire by Cavalier between 2003 and the present, because they are age 40 or older. But we will persevere and strive to identify everyone harmed by Cavalier’s discriminatory policies, and make sure they receive just restitution.”
Cavalier provides business and residential customers with telephone, high-speed Internet and digital TV services in seven markets across five states and the District of Columbia. It employs more than 500 people.
The EEOC enforces the nation’s laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. More information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.