Woolworth Gets "Wake Up Call" From EEOC

November 18, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The federal government has settled an age discrimination claim on behalf of former Woolworth employees, in what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission called a "wake up call to corporate America."

The EEOC announced the $3.5 million settlement Friday over claims Woolworth’s wrongly laid off 678 workers between 1995 and 1997.   Most of the payments to individual employees will range between $4,000 and $7,000, EEOC officials said, according to the Associated Press.

The EEOC’s lawsuit alleged that Woolworth targeted employees 40 years old or over for layoffs because of their ages, and that many were promptly replaced by younger persons hired from the outside. “When push came to shove, they were pushed out the door,” said EEOC lawyer Katherine Bissell, according to the Associated Press.

“Door” Jam

The EEOC found evidence that F.W. Woolworth selected older employees for discharge out of proportion to their representation of the work force, and that the company engaged in a nationwide pattern or practice of discrimination against older employees in its stores.

The EEOC, which filed the lawsuit after failing to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement, also discovered additional evidence of age-discriminatory statements and actions that motivated the actions of the company’s executives and decision makers.

Foot Locker did not admit any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay the money and pay for administration of the fund. Lawyers for the company did not immediately return a call for comment.

Although F.W. Woolworth Co. and its Woolworth retail stores ceased operation in 1997, the corporate parent continued to operate and now exists as Foot Locker Specialty, Inc., which operates retail clothing stores.   F.W. Woolworth Co., Inc. changed its name to Foot Locker Specialty, Inc., which is a subsidiary of Foot Locker, Inc.

In a statement, Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., director of the EEOC’s New York District Office, said that “reductions-in-force may be a necessary fact of economic life, but age discrimination is not. Productive, hard-working employees with 20 to 30 years of experience deserve better than to be displaced by younger, less experienced persons hired off the street.”