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Image of the Penn State Campus
Penn State; Image by Christopher Sanders, http://www.collegian.psu.edu/news/campus/

Age discrimination happens more often than one might think, and no industry is immune. For example, a recent case of age discrimination occurred at Penn State and has resulted in a wrongful termination lawsuit. A former Penn State employee, Tracey Jackson, decided to file a lawsuit against the university for $150,000 for “allegedly terminating her because of her age.” According to the lawsuit, Jackson is seeking “$150,000 to compensate for pay, seniority, benefits, bonuses, future raises, uncompensated sick, personal and vacation time and tax penalties.”
For 31 years Jackson worked for the university. Hired back in 1985, she “received several promotions and salary raises” during her career. During her time at Penn State, she worked as a supervisor for the Liberal Arts I.T. Interns and was part of the I.T. Mentor Program. In 2006 she was even told she was the “model of professional behavior,” according to the lawsuit.
Image of an Age Discrimination Awareness sign
Age Discrimination Awareness; Image Courtesy of allnurses.com
Despite the praise, she was placed “on a disciplinary action for alleged failure to meet acceptable standards of performance” in 2014, though “successfully completed the policy in 2015.” Shortly after, the lawsuit claims an I.T. manager stated, “Tracey exhibits difficulty adjusting to organizational change, priorities, or new approaches to problems … Has difficulty understanding and interpreting information relating to new procedures.”
In 2016, the same manager placed Jackson on a Performance Improvement Plan because of her “performance and behavior, lack of professionalism, a pattern of failing to meet deadlines, and lack of technical knowledge.According to the lawsuit, the Performance Improvement Plan was meant to “evaluate her performance in writing on a weekly basis for three months, but did not happen.”
When working on her end-of-year appraisal at the end of the school year in May 2016, Jackson noted: “As an African-American and woman over the age of 50 years old, I felt targeted and discriminated against after the move was complete.” A month later the university informed her that she could either “retire or be terminated,” according to the lawsuit.
In response, Jackson emailed the school’s human resources department, saying, “I’m sure that you know if I work one day in the calendar year that I turn 55, I can retire w/o a loss of retirement benefits. This would be Jan. 2, 2017. Retiring now would be a great financial hardship for me.” She never received a response to that initial email, so she followed it up with another that stated, “I do not wish to retire or resign from Liberal Arts,” according to the lawsuit.
Eventually, human resources responded, but not with the response Jackson was hoping for. Instead, the department told her “she could not transfer positions.” Additionally, the “State Employees’ Retirement System was informed that Jackson had chosen to retire instead of being fired,” which was false, according to the lawsuit. Jackson’s lawsuit stated, “Mandatory or forced retirement was in violation of the ADEA since the early retirement was in lieu of involuntary termination.”
So what exactly is Jackson’s lawsuit charging? What laws or rights is the lawsuit alleging were broken? Well, in a nutshell the lawsuit claims the termination violated the following:
  • Age Discrimination Employment Act
  • Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
  • The State College Anti-Discrimination in Employment Ordinance
  • The Employee Retirement Income Security Act
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Title 42 of the United States Code

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