A judge ruled shortly before Christmas Day that an age discrimination lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles would be allowed to continue.
An opinion issued on December 18th tossed aside FCA’s move to dismiss the suit. Attorneys for the company had hoped to force the four plaintiffs into arbitration, only to be denied by Judge Laurie Michelson.
Each of the plaintiffs, writes the Detroit Free Press, was hired before 1995, before Chrysler was purchased by Fiat – William Winfrey, 61; Mark Modlin, 58; Rodrigo Bravo, 60; and Dan Cerjanec, 59.
According to the lawsuit, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles used an evaluation system which was unfair to older employees. That system, they say, helped determine bonuses, and included an array of information on individual employees. Among the stored data was worker photographs and the length of time workers had spent with the company.
The plaintiffs claim that upper-level managers, who rarely interact with ordinary employees, evaluate candidates for bonuses – while having their photographs displayed in front of them. Consequently, they say, some management figures have been less inclined to distribute rewards to older employees, even when those same workers were given glowing reviews by their immediate supervisors.
Both Modlin and Cerjanec say they were wrongfully terminated due to their age, while the other plaintiffs remain employed by FCA.
Attorney Shereef Akeel, who represents the plaintiffs, said Judge Michelson’s decision not to force arbitration is monumental.
“It’s huge because our clients will have their day in court to have their claims heard before a jury in a public forum,” explained Akeel, who damned the prevalence of arbitration clauses in employment contracts.
“The use of a photograph in reviews is a first for me,” Akeel said. “The use of a photograph has no value in determining how well someone performed for a year. Someone can be judged by appearance rather than their performance … This process is fraught with danger.”
FCA released its own opinion on the development on Monday.
“This is an early and preliminary order in this action. FCA US denies any wrongdoing and will continue to vigorously defend its reputation in this matter. We cannot comment further at this time as the matter is in litigation,” wrote the company in a statement.
Akeel is also working on another suit involving racial discrimination at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
In that case, former FCA Diversity Manager Marlin Williams was tasked with rooting out potential pay and promotion disparities among minority workers. After discovering several irregularities in the system – perhaps evidence of racial bias – Williams passed on her findings to her superiors.
Less than a year ago, Williams was fired, purportedly due to her discoveries.
Akeel says the racial discrimination suit could include up to 1,000 past and present African-American employees at FCA. To date, he’s heard from 60.