EEOC Sues Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is alleged to have violated federal law by denying hire to an older applicant and pushing an older employee to retire because of their ages.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed another age discrimination lawsuit in federal court, this one against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital.

The new lawsuit comes amid an active crack down on age bias in the U.S. economy. In late September, EEOC filed a similar lawsuit against RockAuto LLC, a Madison, Wisconsin-headquartered Internet-based auto parts seller, alleging the company refused to hire a 64-year-old job applicant because of his age. The same week, the EEOC sued Norfolk Southern Corporation, which operates a 20,000-mile freight railroad system in the eastern United States. The EEOC has also sued Llanerch Country Club (LCC), in Havertown, Pennsylvania, saying it violated federal law by discriminating against a long-term groundskeeper because of his age.

According to the EEOC’s latest lawsuit, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services violated federal law by denying hire to an older applicant and constructively discharging an older employee because of their ages. According to the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, 56-year-old Phyllis DeWaters was a qualified applicant who had been unanimously recommended by an interview panel to be hired as a clinical social worker at the hospital. The 31-year-old clinical services director instead selected a much younger employee, citing a preference for younger workers.

The EEOC lawsuit further suggests the same clinical services director supervised another older worker, 60-year-old Janet Luchies, who worked as a clinical social worker for the hospital. When the clinical services director became her supervisor in November 2015, he “gave Luchies the least desirable assignments, scrutinized her work closer than her colleagues, and wrote her up.” As a result, she took a medical leave of absence and subsequently retired.

The EEOC argues such alleged conduct violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The lawsuit is seeking injunctive relief that prohibits the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services from discriminating against employees based on age, as well as monetary relief including pay and liquidated damages, and other affirmative relief for DeWaters and Luchies.

“Denying hire to an applicant because of age and forcing an employee to quit because of age are unlawful acts,” says Dale Price, trial attorney for the Detroit Field Office of the EEOC. “The EEOC is pursuing this matter because federal law provides specific protections to members of our workforce, like DeWaters and Luchies, who are age 40 and older.”