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Plumbing contractor to pay for forcing out employees at age 62

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has reached a $140,000 settlement with a heating and plumbing contractor who allegedly fired two long-time employees when they reached age 62, and had also retaliated against one of the workers for resisting its plans.

The attorney for the company, Superior, Wisconsin-based Stack Brothers Mechanical Contractors Inc., said Monday in a statement that the owner had planned to terminate both workers several years ago, but only kept them on until age 62 so they would be eligible for Social Security.

The EEOC said in a statement issued Friday that Superior, Wisconsin-based Stack Brothers Mechanical Contractors Inc., a major heating and plumbing contractor in northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota, had fired Randy Virta, a 16-year employee, and Karen Kolodzeske, a 25-year employee, although the company’s owner had been warned by the employees that this was illegal.

The EEOC said also that after firing Mr. Virta, the owner retaliated against Ms. Kolodzeske for her complaints about being fired at age 62 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 before firing her as well.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, Stack Brothers will pay $95,000 to Mr. Virta and $35,000 to Ms. Kolodzeske, plus $10,000 of their attorney’s fees, and train its managers and employees regarding employer obligations under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1987.

“Employers often speak about how valuable loyalty in the workplace is,” said EEOC Chicago regional attorney John C. Hendrickson, in a statement. “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.”

Stack Brothers’ attorney, James B. Sherman, president and CEO of Wessels Sherman Joerg Liszka Laverty Seneczko P.C. in Minneapolis, said in a statement: “As the EEOC’s trial attorney noted in a recent interview, in his deposition the owner of Stack Bros. testified that he determined he no longer needed the two employees in question several years prior to their departures.

“Rather than letting them go at that time the owner notified both employees years in advance that they would be retained until reaching the age of 62 based on the assumption that they would become eligible to receive (S)ocial (S)ecurity. Consequently, the allegation that these individuals were terminated simply for turning 62 has always been vehemently denied.

“Stack Bros.’ decision to resolve this lawsuit was made to avoid further disruptions to its business and the ongoing costs of litigation against a large federal agency with vast resources. In doing so Stack Bros. has not admitted to any wrongdoing.”

In July, Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. of Los Angeles L.L.C., which was charged with failing to hire management trainees who were over 40, agreed to pay $425,000 to settle an age discrimination suit filed by the EEOC.