A 20 year veteran of Fidelity’s printing division has sued the firm and two supervisors for alleged age discrimination.
The 57 year old plaintiff, Steven Coogan, claims that he was regularly promoted and received merit increases to his pay as well as bonuses until 2012, when he got a new manager with a “clear preference” for younger employees.
The new manager, Sean Burke, allegedly asked Coogan about the age of Coogan’s direct reports shortly after Fidelity hired him in the spring of 2012. When Burke learned that all but one member of the team was made up of older employees, he told Coogan, “We need to be younger,” according to the complaint filed last week in Massachusetts federal court. The complaint, which does not state Burke’s age, notes that the majority of Coogan’s team was over 40 and had worked with Coogan at Fidelity for many years.
“A high quality tenured workforce is important at Fidelity, and Coogan was rated as ‘exceeding expectations’ for having virtually no turnover,” according to the complaint, which makes claims under Massachusetts and federal laws.
In the following months, Burke allegedly pressured Coogan to discipline the older employees unfairly but gave a raise to the youngest member of the team, a man in his late twenties who had been at the firm for less than a year. The “substantial” raise was outside of the normal performance review cycle and unwarranted, the plaintiff claims.
Then, in the fall of 2012, Burke began shifting Coogan’s duties away from him and highlighted a number of performance deficiencies, according to the plaintiff. For example, Burke said that an internal business partner was unhappy with Coogan’s performance. The claim was false, the complaint states.
In December of 2012, Burke issued Coogan a “final written warning” that said Coogan needed to improve “his judgment, ownership and follow up, and organizational astuteness.”
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After Coogan was fired, Burke gave many of his former duties to a younger employee he had hired earlier that year. Burke also later hired another younger person who took on some of Coogan’s former duties, the plaintiff claims.
Coogan seeks back pay, ongoing pay, the value of lost benefits, damages for emotional distress, punitive damages and attorneys fees and costs.
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The parties’ dispute over the facts of the case as well as Burke’s alleged age related comments, which are rare in such cases, make it unlikely a judge will dismiss the case, says Darnley Stewart, of counsel at Outten & Golden. The law firm represents employees in employment litigation. Most cases get settled, but if the case proceeds to trial, it would be up to a jury to determine which side is more credible, adds Stewart.
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