By: Ellen Jean Hirst
September 22, 2014
Shoe retailer DSW Inc. has agreed to pay $900,000 to settle an age discrimination lawsuit brought by the Chicago District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that accused the company of unfairly firing older workers.
The EEOC had charged Columbus, Ohio based DSW with unfairly firing employees and managers over the age of 40 during a "reduction in force." The EEOC, the government agency charged with enforcing discrimination laws, said DSW fired older employees because of their age and retaliated against employees who refused to fire other workers based on their age. DSW has about 10,000 employees nationwide.
The plaintiffs in the case, filed in federal court Sept. 15 and settled Friday, included seven former managers and about 100 other former employees, an attorney said.
In addition to disbursing $900,000 to the former employees, DSW must report to the EEOC for the next three years regarding any employee complaints of age discrimination and revise its antidiscrimination policy.
Charges filed with the EEOC under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act have increased about 36 percent since 1997, from 15,785 to 21,396. Supervisory trial attorney Diane Smason said a spike in 2008 – to 24,582 – was likely due to the recession when many companies were forced to downsize, a common guise for age discrimination, she said.
“We see this often where it’s easy for employers to use a need for a reduction in force and financial problems as an easy excuse to let go of older workers,” Smason said. “We think that’s what happened here at DSW.”
DSW issued a statement “unequivocally” denying that it discriminated based on age. The allegations focus on events from 2008 and 2009, the statement said.
“Those difficult decisions were driven by economic volatility and were in no way influenced by the age of associates,” the company said. “Our decision to settle this case mitigates the costs associated with a lengthy legal proceeding and is in the best interest of our associates and shareholders