Former Hecht's Employees Fail to Prove Age Discrimination

November 2, 2006 ( - A federal appellate court has ruled that two former divisional sales managers for Hecht's Department Stores failed to prove they were laid off due to their age.

In its opinion, the 6 th US Circuit Court of Appeals determined the 1.7 year difference in average age of divisional sales managers whose positions were eliminated and average of all divisional sales managers before the company’s reduction in force was not significant. Further, the court decided the statistics did not counter Hecht’s offered reasons for deciding which positions to eliminate – store sales volumes lower than a specific threshold and appraisal ratings of divisional sales managers.

The court was presented with statistics on the age of divisional sales managers within the Nashville area, in which the plaintiffs formerly worked, as well as a 13-store region in which the plaintiffs formerly worked. The court was also provided with statistics for divisional sales managers at all Hecht’s stores – statistics Hecht’s said the court should use in making its decision.

The court chose the 13-store region for review in its case since eliminations of positions in that region were made by the same decisionmakers. The court said statistics for that reason, along with other evidence presented by the plaintiffs, did not prove they were singled out for the reduction in force due to their age.

The appellate court also determined that, even though statistics on divisional sales managers who were transferred to open positions rather than let go could signify age discrimination, the plaintiffs did not show that Hecht’s reasons for determining who to transfer were pretextual.

Fifty-year old Brian Bender and 55-year old James Rafferty had worked for Hecht’s and its predecessor for a number of years. Their positions were eliminated as part of a reduction in force in 2003. Positions of the two youngest divisional sales managers in the Nashville-area stores were also eliminated, but Hecht’s chose to place them in open positions in other areas rather than terminate them.

Bender and Rafferty sued Hecht’s claiming age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and Tennessee Human Rights Act. A district court granted summary judgment in favor of Hecht’s, citing lack of evidence offered by the plaintiffs. The appellate court affirmed.

The opinion in Bender v. Hecht’s Department Stores is here .