Recently disclosed emails revealed that the Ford Motor Co. targeted older salaried and high-performing employees when it laid off thousands in 2019. The strategy focused on ridding the company of pension costs and other employment expenses during a global cost-cutting move. Unsealed in late July, the documents were obtained by the Detroit Free Press in its coverage related to a federal age discrimination lawsuit filed two years ago by a group of former Ford employees.
As part of the company’s “Smart Redesign” plan, Ford laid off some 7,000 salaried employees from its global workforce and another 12,000 primarily hourly employees in Europe. A month after their termination, eight salaried employees at Ford filed a lawsuit in June 2019. The plaintiffs contend that Ford violated their civil rights protections against age discrimination.
Such cases difficult to prove
Lawsuits stemming from age discrimination remain difficult to prove. In many such cases, courts and juries seldom find a definitive moment in which an employer made a hostile decision in terminating an older worker. Instead, employers cite reasons such as a reorganization or cost-cutting.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 has, thus far, only provides limited protection. The reason is that the act contains many loopholes and continues to be weakened by U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
Maybe that is why for the fourth consecutive year, age discrimination complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) declined. Such complaints dropped to 14,183 in 2020, down from 15,573 in 2019.
An algorithm with birth dates
However, the Ford case may prove differently.
Documents revealed that the automaker retained a consulting firm to determine which employees would provide the company with the most cost savings if terminated. The consulting company relied on an algorithm that included the number of years an employee worked at Ford and the employees’ birth dates.
In one such email, a director of a Ford vehicle line wrote: “They are targeting the most senior leaders first (29+ years of service and 50+ years old).”
Many of the ex-Ford employees who spoke with the Detroit Free Press said the layoffs occurred with months or weeks from certain pension milestones. The terminations resulted in them receiving a smaller portion of their expected retirement pension.
We know that for far too long companies mistreat older workers. Age discrimination does not belong anywhere, especially in the workplace. When the time comes, consider taking legal action just like some of the ex-Ford workers.