AARP Foundation Litigation (AFL) attorneys represented older 3M workers challenging the company’s human resources policies affecting pay, promotions, and terminations. The two lawsuits (Whitaker v. 3M and Garcia v. 3M) were in state and federal court respectively.
The Minnesota suit (Whitaker) alleged that 3M engaged in a pattern or practice of intentionally discriminating against older employees in performance appraisals, training, promotions, pay, and terminations, largely through HR policies adopted since 2001.
Additionally, the case alleged that these policies have adversely impacted 3M’s older employees. These policies included selecting younger employees for training as Black Belts and Master Black Belts in 3M’s Six Sigma program (a program positioning employees on the fast track for promotion and higher pay). The suit alleged that 3M violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act by assigning to its employees age 46 and older lower performance evaluations than younger employees through a forced distribution, or quota, process and then using the lower performance ratings to discriminate against older employees in promotions and compensation and to justify their termination.
The plaintiffs in Garcia, filed in federal court in San Jose, Calif., before being transferred to federal court in Minnesota, alleged that older 3M employees in California, Texas and other states faced the same age-biased corporate policies and practices that victimized 3M’s older workers in Minnesota. Additionally, the federal suit challenged the validity of the waiver 3M required older workers to sign in order to receive enhanced severance benefits. The federal Older Workers’ Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) contains specific requirements for waivers and releases.
The lawsuits settled in 2012. While admitting no liability, the company agreed to change corporate policies and provide a fund of $9 million in Whitaker and $6 million in Garcia to compensate the plaintiffs.
What’s at Stake
In difficult economic times, it is all the more important to be vigilant of workplace policies that could adversely affect older workers. AARP is working to enforce rights under both federal and state antidiscrimination laws.
Whitaker v. 3M was before the District Court of Ramsey County Minnesota and Garcia v. 3M was before the U.S. District Court for Minnesota.
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