Company fires woman who wouldn’t retire on 65th birthday, suit says. She’s owed $105K

In the months leading up to an employee’s 65th birthday, she was repeatedly questioned about her retirement plans.

“‘When are you going to retire,” “why don’t you retire at 65,” and “what is the reason you are not retiring?,’” J&M Industries Inc. managers, including her direct supervisor, asked her, according to a federal age discrimination lawsuit.

After she said she wasn’t going to retire when she turned 65, the company fired her — then replaced her with a younger man, the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.

Before she was fired the month before her birthday, the woman worked for the Louisiana-based manufacturing and distribution company as a purchasing agent for nearly 20 years, according to a complaint.

When she was fired in May 2020, the company told her “economic uncertainty” was the reason her job position had to be eliminated, the complaint says.

However, less than a month later, J&M Industries hired a 39-year-old man as a purchasing agent in her place, the complaint says.

The company was accused of violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by firing her, according to the EEOC. The law prevents age discrimination against applicants or employees 40 and older.

Now J&M Industries will pay the woman $105,000 in back pay and liquidated damages to settle the case, the EEOC announced in a Feb. 1 news release.

McClatchy News contacted attorneys representing the company for comment on Feb. 5 and didn’t receive an immediate response.

“This resolution serves the public interest,” Rudy Sustaita, a regional attorney for the EEOC’s Houston District Office, said in a statement. “It provides relief for the former employee and will help protect others from age discrimination.”

In a response to the EEOC’s complaint, J&M Industries denied that it fired the woman because of her age.

The company also denied it replaced her with the 39-year-old employee and argued he had “broader, more significant duties than she did,” according to the court filing.

J&M Industries did admit that questions about the woman’s retirement plans were made “to assess the need for succession planning” or were “merely ‘stray remarks,’” the court filing says.

As part of a three-year consent decree that settles the case, J&M Industries will train employees, revise company policies, regularly report to the EEOC and will post a notice about how the company must abide by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, according to the EEOC.

“Age discrimination is wrong, and employers that discriminate against older workers violate the law,” Peter Theis, a senior trial attorney for the EEOC’s New Orleans field office, said in a statement.

J&M Industries is based in Ponchatoula, about 50 miles east of Baton Rouge.

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