| The Ohio State University has agreed to settle an age-discrimination lawsuit with two former employees for $765,000, and committed to conduct training sessions to prevent this type of bias. Advocates for older workers closely watched this case, given the difficulties that public employees can face when seeking money damages for age bias.
Julianne Taaffe and Kathryn Moon, instructors in the College of Education and Human Ecology, were forced out of their jobs in 2014 after each had worked there for more than two decades. The two instructors filed a lawsuit in 2015 claiming that for years, the university had violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which protects workers at or over the age of 40 from bias in the workplace.
According to the lawsuit, as far back as 2010, the executive director of Taaffe and Moon’s program referred to his staff in an email as “an extraordinarily change-averse population of people almost all of whom are over 50” and said managing them was “like herding hippos.” Despite complaining to university officials about the ongoing discriminatory behavior, including reduced professional-development opportunities and unfair performance evaluations, the two instructors say they continued to face bias.
More than two years after Taaffe and Moon filed suit, the university agreed to reinstate them. The full settlement resolving their claims followed several months later.
“We are pleased that Ohio State is responding to the unfairness endured by these two fine teachers and also will be taking steps to address age bias in the workplace at the university in the future,” said Dan Kohrman, a senior attorney with AARP Foundation, which partnered with an Ohio law firm to represent the two instructors. “Other state employers will pay attention to this.”
A Supreme Court ruling in 2000 said that under the ADEA, workers for state agencies — including public universities — cannot receive money damages, including back pay, when they sue their employer for age discrimination. Critics of that ruling say that many lawyers are now reluctant to accept clients who have experienced this type of bias because the legal fees recoverable for winning these cases in court would be much less than those for clients who are suing private employers.
In addition to the financial settlement, the university has agreed to review its policies throughout the institution for investigating age-discrimination complaints. Ohio State also will hold training sessions for human resources staff and others in the College of Education and Human Ecology on preventing age bias and other related workplace issues.