A former assistant manager in logistics at Volkswagen AG's Tennessee plant claims he was demoted after the company decided it needed to shed its "old diesel image" and re-brand itself as a "modern, young company focused on productivity, efficiency and technology." That effort involved a company-wide effort to get rid of older workers, he claims in a lawsuit.
Volkswagen seems to have been unusually up-front about its effort to thin its ranks of older people who didn't fit the new image. According to Bloomberg, the former assistant manager says the company announced the policy. However, it promised to implement the policy through "natural fluctuations."
Instead, the 53-year-old man says, Volkswagen began a company-wide purge of older workers using coercive practices. If the claims are true, Volkswagen could easily be found guilty of illegal age discrimination.
The lawsuit seeks a nationwide injunction prohibiting the practices. It was filed on behalf of all current employees over the age of 50 who have been affected by the purge.
The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), passed in 1967, prohibits discrimination against people 40 and older in employment. It covers discrimination in hiring, compensation, the terms, conditions and privileges of employment, and termination on the basis of age. This includes limiting, segregating or classifying employees in a way which would tend to deprive them of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect their employment status. It is also illegal to retaliate against workers for complaining about age discrimination.
A company's expressed wish to have a younger-looking workforce does not justify age discrimination. If Volkswagen has actually demoted or terminated employees in an effort to re-brand itself as a younger-seeming organization, it is very likely violating the ADEA.
Bloomberg notes that Volkswagen has been hit hard financially by its decision to install emissions-test-defeating software in its diesel vehicles, which it admitted in 2015 to having done. The company has apparently incurred some $30 billion in expenses and two Volkswagen executives were sentenced to prison as a result of the scandal.
A Volkswagen spokesperson told Bloomberg that it does not comment on pending litigation.
If you believe you have suffered from age discrimination, you're not alone. Before you make a complaint, however, consider discussing your situation with an employment law attorney. Your lawyer can help you build a credible case before you file your complaint and may be able to prevent retaliation.