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A Brooklyn jury has awarded two fired employees of a beverage distribution company, who were the firm’s two oldest salesmen, a total award of $458,000 in an age discrimination case filed on their behalf by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency said Thursday.
Cesar Fernandez was 66 and Archibald Roberts was 64 when they were fired in January 2014 by West Woodbury, New York-based AZ Metro Distributors LLC, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn in U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. AZ Metro Distributors LLC.
According to the 2015 complaint in the case, Mr. Roberts was told he was being discharged because of his age and the firm’s general manager’s desire to move the sales force in a different direction by hiring younger workers.
AZ Metro maintained the employees were not discharged, but had voluntarily resigned, according to the EEOC’s statement.
The EEOC said in its statement that in addition to awarding the men $458,000 in lost wages, the jury found that AZ Metro had acted “willfully” within the meaning of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which the agency expects will trigger an eventual liquidated damages award by the court.
The EEOC said the trial lasted six days and the jury deliberated for about 3½ hours in the case.
“The jury plainly understood that Mr. Roberts and Mr. Fernandez were dedicated employees who lost their jobs for an unfair and illegal reason — their age,” EEOC trial attorney Kirsten Peters, who led the agency’s trial team, said in the statement. She said in an email the verdict was reached Tuesday.
AZ Metro’s attorneys could not be reached for comment.
Experts say the EEOC continues to file charges and lawsuits but is not pursuing its mandate to combat discrimination as vigorously as it could because it does not have a full complement of commissioners.
Employers should move quickly to compare discrimination allegations made in lawsuits filed against them to previous complaints made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against an employer who waited too long to object that a regulatory complaint did not match a claim in subsequent litigation, experts say.