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Appeals court clears Nationwide of age and race bias charges


A federal appeals court has overturned a jury verdict and ruled Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. is not liable for age and race discrimination charges in connection with its termination of two sales managers.

Both Parker Perret and Melvin Pierre Sr. had worked as sales managers for Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide under the same supervisor, Brian McCulloch, according to Monday’s ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in Parker Perret; Patricia Penn Pierre as executrix of the estate of Melvin Pierre Sr., deceased v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

Mr. McCulloch placed both Mr. Perret and Mr. Pierre on a job coaching plan in November 2009, according to the ruling. In April 2010, Mr. McCulloch notified Mr. Perret that because of his failure to improve in accordance with the coaching plan, he was being placed on a performance improvement plan. Mr. Perret, who testified this was the final stage in Nationwide’s process for terminating employee, resigned in May 2010.

Mr. Pierre, who was also placed on an improvement plan around April 2010, almost immediately took medical leave and resigned in July 2010, according to the ruling.

The two men filed separate lawsuits that were later combined in U.S. District Court in Sherman, Texas. Mr. Perret claimed age discrimination, while Mr. Pierre, who was black, charged the insurer with both age and race discrimination. Mr. Pierre died after the case was appealed.

In a complex resolution, a federal jury found Nationwide had constructively discharged Mr. Perret because of his age and Mr. Pierre because of his age and race.

But the court also found that Nationwide proved it would have placed both men on coaching and improvement plans even if it had not considered age or race, which precluded the plaintiffs from receiving monetary damages under Texas law.

The District Court denied Nationwide’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, awarded costs to plaintiffs and denied the plaintiffs’ motion for attorneys’ fees.

Both sides appealed the ruling. A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit held there was no evidence to support the two plaintiffs’ discrimination charges.

“Plaintiffs contend that Perret and Pierre were pre-selected for termination because of their age and/or race, that Nationwide did not fairly evaluate their compliance with the coaching plans and (improvement plans), and that the result of the coaching plans and (the improvement plan) was intended to be and would inevitably have been termination.”

However, said the appeals panel, “There is no evidence of demotion, reassignment, reduction in responsibilities, harassment, or humiliation, and no evidence that any supervisor or manager ever advised plaintiffs to resign or asked them whether they would resign,” said the panel, in reversing the District Court’s denial of Nationwide’s motion for judgment as a matter of law and calling for the case’s dismissal.

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