A news release from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said the jury award went to Fred Kuehnl, who upholstered the interior of caskets and served as foreman of the Warfield-Rohr Casket Company’s trimming division for 29 years before being fired by CEO Howard Ayres on April 28, 2000. The jury gave Kuehnl $397,948 in back pay and damages.
“Although it took over five years, it feels good when you know that you were right,” said Kuehnl after the verdict was delivered, following a four-day trial. “I feel vindicated for the discrimination I suffered because of my age.”
The EEOC asserted in the suit that led to the jury award that, prior to terminating Kuehnl, Ayres made numerous inflammatory age-based remarks and indicated that a younger employee could better serve the company. Despite Kuehnl’s superior experience and qualifications as a long-time employee of the division, he was forced to train his 33-year old replacement prior to his termination. Kuehnl testified that when he told Ayres that he planned to work until age 65, the CEO remarked in a derisive tone, “We will see about that,” the EEOC news release said.
The EEOC lawsuit was initially filed in September 2001 under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) and dismissed in 2003 by US District Judge William Nickerson. The EEOC then successfully appealed to the US 4 th Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the dismissal in April 2004 and sent the case back to the lower court for trial.