The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Ohio State on behalf of a 53-year-old former university employee in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Sept. 3.
The lawsuit claims the university wrongfully terminated Alan Knox, who worked for the university for 12 years, much of which was as a human resource generalist in the College of Education and Human Ecology. According to the lawsuit, the termination came amid a “workplace culture infected with age bias” against several older employees.
Knox was terminated in March 2018 as part of a “reduction in force.” The lawsuit states that two other employees, both older than 60, were the only others terminated as part of the reduction in force. As part of his job, Knox managed human resources for three centers in the College of Education and Human Ecology and was the oldest human resources generalist in the college. He also received “satisfactory or better” performance evaluations prior to his termination, according to the lawsuit.
The university does not comment on pending litigation, but it aims for diversity in its hiring practices, university spokesperson Ben Johnson said in an email.
“The Ohio State University is committed to hiring and retaining a diverse and inclusive work force and providing equal opportunities for all,” Johnson said.
Knox sought reemployment in at least four other positions at Ohio State but claims the university continued to hire younger and “significantly less-qualified individuals instead,” according to the suit.
Six months after Knox’s termination, the department promoted a 28 year old with five years of experience and raised her salary to nearly the wage Knox earned by the end of his time at the university, according to the suit.
According to the suit, Knox’s manager would call Knox “the old guy” and Knox’s associates “the old crew,” and that one executive director referred to older members of CEHE’s human resources staff as “unable to turn on a computer” without technical support and, in one instance, called a staff member the “Grim Reaper.”
The lawsuit claims that the university violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which prohibits discrimination against employees age 40 and older. It follows multiple attempts by EEOC representatives to “effect voluntary compliance with the ADEA through informal methods of conciliation, conference and persuasion,” the lawsuit states.
According to the suit, Ohio State issued a report in response to four complaints in which it declined to take corrective action.
The lawsuit is seeking a permanent injunction that bans the university from “engaging in any employment practice which discriminates on the basis of age,” according to the suit. The suit also requests for Ohio State to pay appropriate back wages including benefits to Knox, reinstate or provide him with front pay and to enact policies, practices and programs to provide equal opportunities for individuals over 40 years old and eliminate the effects of its past and current policies.