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Sterling Employment Law

Federal research lab dinged in age discrimination lawsuit

Federal research and development center Jet Propulsion Laboratory obviously commands exceptional acumen in its oversight of some singular and notably complicated tasks.

Like operating missions to the Moon. Like designing robotic space vehicles. Like managing planetary-orbit operations.

Given the sheer complexity surrounding those attainments, it might be reasonably expected that JPL executives and labor managers wouldn't have much problem steering clear of a far more mundane and earthly challenge.

Namely, that is material discontent in the R&D entity's employee pool, specifically its diverse work population aged 40 and older.

It is unlawful to practice on-the-job discrimination against that demographic, which is precisely what was alleged against JPL in a recently filed federal lawsuit. That litigation was filed on behalf of affected workers by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which accused JPL of violating the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Among other things, the EEOC's filing alleged the following illegal actions:

  • Pattern of terminating workers over 40 in order to keep younger employees on board; and
  • Promoting and/or rehiring comparatively unqualified younger workers at the expense of more seasoned older employees

Ultimately, JPL opted to settle the EEOC's allegations outside of court rather than risk taking the matter to a verdict. The company paid a $10 million penalty and additionally agreed to the imposition of various injunctive sanctions. Those ranged from the appointment of a diversity director and layoff manager to guaranteed protections for older workers and ongoing EEOC company monitoring.

JPL has agreed to abide by all stated injunctive measures for a three-year period and will be subject to ongoing and close court scrutiny during that time.

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