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Georgia retirement community to shell out $78,000 for age, disability discrimination

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Dive Brief:

  • A Columbus, Georgia-based retirement community must pay a former worker $78,000 in monetary relief after a general manager repeatedly asked how long she planned to continue to work and sought to remove her from her role after a brief hospitalization, according to court documents.
  • Although the receptionist expressed her desire to continue working and had never previously raised substantial performance concerns as a receptionist, the general manager told her that Covenant Woods had lost confidence in her ability to work, citing her recent hospitalization. Management did not follow Covenant Woods’ performance improvement procedures and the new receptionist was a substantially younger replacement.
  • The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission sued Covenant Woods in February 2024, alleging age and disability discrimination; the conduct of the retirement community’s leadership had violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act respectively. Marcus G. Keegan, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta District Office, stated the commission is “pleased” that, via “this early resolution,” the worker will be compensated and that Covenant Woods will be taking necessary steps to “ensure that it meets its obligations under the ADEA and the ADA going forward.”

Dive Insight:

Along with paying the fired employee monetary relief, Covenant Woods must stand up an anti-discrimination training program within 90 days of this consent decree being issued. The training must happen annually thereafter and 15 business days before the training starts, Covenant Woods must submit a program agenda to the EEOC via email. 

Originally, the EEOC brought the suit against Covenant Woods because management allegedly pestered the worker with questions about her career plans and whether she would retire. The barrage of questions happened from at least 2017 until 2022, when she was hospitalized.

When she returned to work later that month, according to court documents, she found a newly hired, 30-years-younger employee performing her receptionist duties. The complainant was called into a meeting shortly after, where the general manager and office manager allegedly asked questions, once more, about how long she planned to keep working, if she needed to keep working and whether she wanted to travel instead.

Per court documents, the general manager then told the employee that they had “lost confidence” in her job-performing abilities and that her hospitalization had exacerbated such worries.

Instead of adhering to Covenant Woods’ associate handbook, which outlines the disciplinary steps for poor job performance (verbal warning, two written warnings, suspension, termination), the general manager went straight to moving the complainant from her receptionist role. They offered what the court said was “an unspecified role in an unspecified department” once a week on Sundays or an unpaid “volunteer ambassador position.” The general manager pushed these two options, additionally declining the worker’s request for 30 more days to improve her performance.

At the time, in a statement sent to HR Dive, BrightSpace CFO Brian Hendricks said that the retirement living community had not violated said worker’s rights.

“Employers have a responsibility to evaluate an employee’s performance without regard to age, if the employee is 40 and over, and without regard to an actual or perceived disability,” Keegan said of the settlement.

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