Lack of Bias Training Keeps Age Discrimination Action Alive

October 22, 2001 ( -Lawyers for a 59-year-old African American man, who won $100,000 in damages in a federal court age discrimination lawsuit against a car dealership, have successfully fended off efforts to have the judgment overturned.

In upholding the jury’s findings, a three-judge panel at the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals honed in on the fact that hiring managers at Phillips Chevrolet were never properly trained in how to avoid discrimination problems.

“Leaving managers with hiring authority in ignorance of the basic features of the discrimination laws is an ‘extraordinary mistake’ for a company to make, and a jury can find that such an extraordinary mistake amounts to reckless indifference,” Judge Diane P. Wood wrote.


 Younger Hires

Plaintiff Anthony Mathis had applied twice unsuccessfully at Phillips. He eventually sued in US District Court in the Northern District of Illinois after the company hired seven new salespeople — all younger than the plaintiff.

Mathis established that the dealership’s general manager often noted applicants’ages in a section of their applications that the general manager acknowledged he used to make notes he considered relevant to his hiring decisions.

A second manager, meanwhile, testified that he looked for applicants who were “bright, young, and aggressive.”

The District Court jury bought the age discrimination claim but rejected the race discrimination argument. It awarded Mathis $50,000 in compensatory damages and another $50,000 after finding   — as permitted by federal discrimination laws — that the dealership’s actions were “willful.”

On appeal, the dealership challenged the district court’s exclusion of evidence that Mathis had sued at least six other car dealerships in the Chicago area for discrimination.

Phillips asserted that there were “significant irregularities,” including lies, in Mathis’s applications to other dealers.

– Fred Schneyer